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03/04/09 9:10 PM EST

Manny reshapes Dodgers' lineup

Newly acquired Hudson likely to hit in front of slugger

PHOENIX -- Manny Ramirez passed his physical Wednesday, and that sure made Joe Torre feel good.

Torre said he wasn't sure whether he would bat Ramirez third or fourth in the order, but it seemed like a decision he was pleased to be facing.

"He hit third, obviously, for us in the latter part of the year," said Torre, "but he's certainly qualified to hit fourth. We can move people and protect him."

Manny Ramirez

In any configuration, the Dodgers' offense this year shapes up as potentially the franchise's best in about three decades, at least since the 1981 World Series championship team and more likely the 1977 club that featured four 30-homer hitters, when 30-homer seasons were significant.

"You saw us last year. You know what he brings to the table," Torre said of Ramirez. "Numbers-wise is one thing. It's how he helps the guys around him. But you don't think about, until you watch him every day, how much patience he gives to those guys."

Assuming everyone is healthy, Torre said he would bat speedy switch-hitters Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson first and second. At 3-4-5-6 he listed Ramirez, James Loney, Andre Ethier and Russell Martin. He gave no specific order other than Ramirez at either three or four, but last year he most often had Loney batting fourth behind Ramirez and it turned out pretty well.

The best guess would be Ramirez third, Loney fourth, Ethier fifth and Martin sixth. Or Ramirez fourth, sandwiched between Ethier and Loney. Either way, Matt Kemp would be seventh and Casey Blake, who hit 21 home runs between Cleveland and Los Angeles, would be eighth.

"It's pretty formidable," said Torre. "If Blake's eighth, it's because of his experience, knowing he can handle it and not get tricked in the eight-hole. That's important."

For the first month after his acquisition from Cleveland, Ramirez batted fourth, behind Jeff Kent and most often ahead of Loney. Starting Aug. 28, Torre moved Ramirez to third, again most often protected by Loney, until a hot Ethier moved into that spot late in the regular season and through the postseason. Against tough left-handed starting pitching, Torre batted Martin fourth behind Ramirez.

"It's about the people you can protect him with," said Torre. "I was talking to Donnie [Mattingly, the hitting coach] today. It will be a feel thing."

Torre was asked if he was reluctant to bat Ramirez third while stacking left-handed hitters Loney and Ethier back to back.

Manny Ramirez's 2008 Dodgers stats
A look at how Manny Ramirez did upon joining the Dodgers at last season's Trade Deadline:
Batting Average.396
Home Runs17
On-base percentage.489
Slugging percentage.743

"They handle left-handers pretty well," he said of Loney and Ethier. "A lot of it depends on which left-handers. We'll see."

Torre acknowledged that his tougher challenge will be selecting a pitching staff, particularly a fifth starter to go with Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw.

"We know right now there are a lot of people in the mix," Torre said. "Normally, clubs that have more experience don't have as many question marks. We have people that can make it interesting."

Specifically, Torre mentioned veteran non-roster candidates Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver and Shawn Estes.

"They've all been tested," he said of the trio, emphasizing the value of their experience in an otherwise young rotation. "What's important is when you add a pitcher who was not in the clubhouse last year, you don't want to put added pressure on Billingsley or Kuroda. I've been impressed so far with Randy. This is going to take time. I'm a patient man when it comes to Spring Training."

Torre said he will be patient preparing Ramirez for game action, estimating it won't be sooner than a week after he begins workouts with the club.

"I want to make sure physically he's ready for that stuff," he said.

The Dodgers have had a small sampling of Spring Training holdouts do pretty nicely, albeit it pitchers and not hitters. In 1981, Fernando Valenzuela arrived during the final week of camp, making only two exhibition appearances. Then he won 19 games and finished third in Cy Young voting.

The all-time performance after a holdout belongs to Sandy Koufax when he joined Don Drysdale in showing up the final week of Spring Training in 1966. That year, Koufax went 27-9 with 27 complete games and won the Cy Young Award. Then he retired. Drysdale wasn't as effective, going 13-16 with 11 complete games.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.