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PITTSBURGH -- Manny Ramirez isn't talking to the media, but it sure sounds from others like the Dodgers are emphasizing RBIs and not home runs from their aging left fielder, perhaps that it's even his idea.
"I think Manny is a lot better [than last year]," said manager Joe Torre. "He had a good spring offensively. I can't give how many home runs, but he seems to be very productive."
Whether it was Ramirez's decision or the suggestion of the club, the hints are that after returning from his suspension, he tried hard to prove he was still a power hitter and the results went the other direction. Ramirez's .531 slugging percentage was 60 points below his career average, while his on-base percentage was actually higher than his career average.
"In my conversation with him in the offseason, he was serious about being different than last year," said Torre. "Different with what he was doing as a hitter. I think last year hurt him, I really do. He may be flamboyant and all that stuff, but he's shy and sensitive. He may disagree. But I think he's very determined to recapture what he had. I like [his approach]. If we play to our potential, we should have men on base for him."
Perhaps that explains Torre's late decision to bat Matt Kemp fifth, behind Ramirez, instead of second, where manager-in-training Don Mattingly had Kemp batting through most of Spring Training until Torre made the switch late last week. Torre said he set up Monday's lineup with Russell Martin second because he was 7-for-15 against Pirates starter Zach Duke, but Kemp was 6-for-15.
Torre also said he is convinced Ramirez's problems last year were all about balance at the plate, not that the outfielder had lost his ability to hit.
"I never felt he lost it," Torre said. "He was just never comfortable. He took a lot of strikes and swung at bad balls. If you saw the same technique but he wasn't getting the results, that's different. [Carl] Yastrzemski adapted to age. The great ones recognize when it's time to do something different."
Torre defends approach to rotation
PITTSBURGH -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre had another round of defending his starting rotation, and his alignment of it, including his choice of Vicente Padilla as the Opening Day starter on Monday.
"We have four guys I have confidence in," he said. "Sure, we are waiting for Chad Billingsley to get his confidence back. [Hiroki] Kuroda, if we can just keep him on the mound [healthy]. Padilla proved in the playoffs that when he is focused, he can beat people. The other kid [Clayton Kershaw], he's just growing. It's unfair to say, 'Kershaw, lead us.' That's a little early to take it for granted."
Troncoso leaves for birth of daughter
PITTSBURGH -- The Dodgers were without Ramon Troncoso on Monday, as the reliever flew back to Los Angeles for the birth of daughter Isabella. Torre said Troncoso will return Tuesday and his anticipated absence was not a factor in the Dodgers choosing to go with 12 pitchers to start the season.
Dodgers, KABC extend radio pact
PITTSBURGH -- The Dodgers and KABC Talk Radio 790 have extended their partnership one year through the 2011 season. This is the 28th year that KABC has broadcast Dodgers games.