PHOENIX — Manny Ramirez saw just three pitches and took two swings in his Oakland debut. He never got the ball out of the infield. Still, just being there seemed enough for now.
“I feel good,” he said afterward. “I make contact.”
Then he laughed and laughed.
The suspended slugger grounded into a double play and bounced out in the Athletics’ 8-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners in their spring opener on Friday.
Ramirez will have plenty of opportunities to refine his form. He will have turned 40 by the time he’s sat out the first 50 games of the season for violating MLB’s substance abuse policy.
Jesus Montero, the touted 22-year-old acquired in a trade with the New York Yankees for Michael Pineda, hit one of Seattle’s five home runs. But Montero left in the fifth inning after being hit by a foul.
Actually, Montero got hit twice in nearly the same place.
“He’s OK,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “He got hit in the jaw a couple of times. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that happen two times in a row like that. The first one got him pretty good but obviously the second one right on top of that, so we got him out of there.”
The A’s and Mariners play the major league opener on March 28 in Tokyo.
Montero, who also had an error when he dropped a foul ball on a windy afternoon, was one of the few regulars the Mariners brought to the Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Seattle got some big hits, a nice sign for an offense that was awful last year. Montero, Michael Saunders and Carlos Peguero each hit two-run homers and Luis Rodriguez and Johermyn Chavez added solo shots.
Ramirez, his trademark locks falling below his helmet, drew a loud mix of boos and cheers when he stepped to the plate in the first inning to face Blake Beaven with a runner on first and one out. On the second pitch, he hit a sharp grounder right to the shortstop, who easily converted the double play.
Three innings later, Ramirez led off the fourth and grounded out sharply to second on the first pitch.
Someone said he probably didn’t plan on hard grounders when he returns to the majors this season.
“You got that right,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I haven’t faced nobody, but tomorrow’s another day. Tomorrow I’ll do better.”
Actually, it will be two days before he has a chance to do better. Manager Bob Melvin said his plan is to play Ramirez every other day through the spring. Then Ramirez will have to stay in extended spring training, with some intermittent trips to Oakland to work out with the team, before he regains his eligibility to play.
Ramirez had just 17 at-bats at the start of the season last year with Tampa Bay before leaving with a suspension looming.
Before Friday’s game, Melvin praised Ramirez’s efforts this spring.
“He’s been terrific here,” Melvin said. “Every day he tells me how lucky he is to be here and how appreciative he is to be here. He’s one of the first ones in the cage every day and one of the last ones to leave. As many younger players and the turnover that we have here, to be able to have an example like that with the history and the numbers that he has makes it pretty easy to get guys to work here.”
That probably wouldn’t have been the description for Ramirez in his final days with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and certainly not in his rocky time in Boston. But Ramirez seems to be cherishing this opportunity.
“He’s certainly not getting paid like he used to,” Melvin said, “and he knows that each and every day he’s got to prove himself to get to the next step of potentially having him around after 50 games. So, so far, so good.”
Ramirez said that he felt better than he expected.
“At least I was seeing the ball pretty good,” he said.
And he said he loves the uniform.
“I like the white uniform. It’s beautiful,” he said. “My friends, they’ll be calling, ‘Man, you look so good in green.”’