Dodgers seek protection for Manny
Torre ponders lineup to prevent intentional walks to Ramirez
MESA, Ariz. -- Joe Torre said the tentative target date for Manny Ramirez's first game is Thursday, when the Dodgers are scheduled to play a World Baseball Classic exhibition game at Camelback Ranch, most likely against Korea.
Conditioning shouldn't be a problem for Ramirez. He was on the field at sunrise Friday running sprints.
"You're late," Ramirez told Matt Kemp when he strolled into the clubhouse at 8:30 a.m.. "I was here at 6:30."
"I was here three weeks ago," replied Kemp, comfortable enough to volley right back at the just-signed Ramirez in a reflection of the loose clubhouse Torre has been referring to almost daily.
Ramirez, of course, sets the standard in looseness. When Torre said he wasn't sure where Ramirez would bat in the Dodgers order, Ramirez silently held up three fingers. So, he's batting third.
If Ramirez is walked in his first at-bat, it could be a sign of things to come. Chances of him hitting .396 again, as he did in his two months with the Dodgers in 2008, aren't so good. Chances are opposing clubs won't let him.
If Ramirez was an opposing pitcher, would he pitch to Ramirez?
"Yes, and I would throw it right down the middle," he said. "In Boston, the pitchers against Vlad [Guerrero] would say they throw it down the middle and let him get himself out. That's what I'd do."
Which is probably why Ramirez is a left fielder and not a pitcher. Torre said the key to assuring that Ramirez isn't pitched around is to protect him in the batting order. The inevitable comparison is made to Barry Bonds, when he set a record drawing 232 walks in 2004.
"I don't think we'll see anybody walked like Barry," Torre said. "I remember [Angels manager Mike] Scioscia walking him in the World Series with nobody on. I don't think Babe Ruth ever got walked like Barry did."
Dodgers pitcher Jason Schmidt was on that Giants team.
"I don't think you'll see Manny get walked to the extent Barry did," he said. "I've never seen anything like that. I think you'll see him walked more than last year. They didn't last year and I don't know why."
Jeff Weaver agreed with Schmidt, saying a left-handed hitter "standing on the dish with 75 home runs -- he gets four [balls]. It's not righty on righty hitting 35 or 40 homers. That's slightly different. And it depends on the situation. If nobody's on, you can challenge him. It's still the old theory, seven out of 10 times you'll get him out."
Chad Billingsley said the game situation would dictate how he would pitch Ramirez. Hiroki Kuroda said direction from the bench would be his guide.
"If you're thinking about the team, you pitch around him," Kuroda said. "If I'm doing what I would want to do, I would challenge him."
Torre has said he plans to bat Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson at the top of the order and has tipped his hand about batting Casey Blake eighth, which Blake didn't find offensive.
"I hit ninth in Cleveland," he said.
Kemp, who led off in Friday's exhibition game against the Cubs, hit in every spot in the order except cleanup and ninth last year. He's hoping that doesn't happen again.
"I don't care where I hit, I just don't want to bounce around," he said. "Just put me in one spot and let me stay there. We've got a stacked lineup now. On paper, there's RBIs anywhere from one to eight. You can't complain about where you hit. I just want to play every day. I don't want to sit. You can't get better sitting out."
Andre Ethier hit primarily in the second spot last year, but he could be fifth this year behind James Loney.
"We've got great problems now," he said. "It doesn't matter to me."
Against left-handed starters in last year's playoffs, Torre batted Russell Martin behind Ramirez. Against right-handers, once Jeff Kent was injured Torre had Loney behind Ramirez, so he's the most likely candidate to be there most of the time this year. Loney said he doesn't care where he bats and never has.
"Wherever I can do the most production," he said. "I could see where they might pitch around him more. Good, we want that. Put guys on base. Look at our lineup. We have guys that can bring him in. Pick who you want to pitch to. As players, we're not thinking what we have to do differently. I have to produce if they walk Manny or if they don't."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.