Manny finding his rhythm in workouts

Manny finding his rhythm in workouts

LOS ANGELES -- Manny Ramirez is hitting better now than he was before the start of his 50-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy.

That's the opinion of the guy whose pitches Ramirez has been hitting.

Rob Flippo, whose regular job is to serve as bullpen catcher for the Dodgers, has spent some overtime throwing extra batting practice to Ramirez in his morning workouts at Dodger Stadium.

And Flippo said the Ramirez, who will start a Minor League assignment Tuesday night in Albuquerque, is more ready than anyone really knows.

"For me, he looks more like he did last year than he did at any time in Spring Training," said Flippo. "From Spring Training and right until he got suspended, he was still trying to find a rhythm. Even in April, he still looked like a hitter going through Spring Training games. He was still trying to get it to click."

Which was understandable, because Ramirez signed late, reported to the Dodgers' first Arizona Spring Training almost three weeks after the rest of the club, tried to rush his way onto the field, was slowed by a tight hamstring and never looked comfortable.

Ramirez's journey back to the Major Leagues will begin Tuesday night at Triple-A Albuquerque, and fans can follow his every move on MiLB.TV. After his Trade Deadline deal from the Red Sox to the Dodgers last year, Ramirez was other-worldly, hitting .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games. This year, prior to his May 7 suspension, Ramirez hit .348 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 27 games. Ramirez also found clubs reluctant to pitch to him, receiving 26 walks in the 27 games compared to 35 walks in the 53 games last year.

"I can tell just by watching how the balls carry," said Flippo. "You can tell -- the way his rhythm is going when he has it together. You can tell if he looks comfortable. You can tell when a guy is fighting it. Everything is looking easy for him, as easy as when he came to us.

"One thing I can tell, when I throw a good pitch down the middle, I expect that to be hit. With him, even when I don't give him a good pitch, he still drives it. In Spring Training, if he got one of those bad pitches, he didn't hit it that good. Last year, when he joined us, no matter where the pitch was, he hit it hard. And right now, it's the same thing with him."

The 42-year-old Flippo is in his eighth season as the Dodgers' bullpen catcher and batting practice pitcher. A Stockton native, he attended San Joaquin Delta College, Fresno State, the University of the Pacific and received a masters degree from the University of South Alabama. He played and coached in the Dodgers' Minor League system before joining the staff.

Flippo said Ramirez's workouts, under the direction of Dodgers coach Manny Mota, are much as they were during Spring Training.

"He's not doing anything different than his regular batting practice," Flippo said. "It's like when he came into Spring Training. He would sometimes ask for a little extra live throwing, in the cage mostly. He didn't ask me to come, but I usually get to the ballpark early anyway when my family's not in town -- maybe I'll workout -- and when he saw me, he asked if I could throw to him. He really doesn't ask for anything special. Maybe for me it means an extra hour.

"When he wants extra swings, it's not like we're out there for hours. He might ask for 25 throws, that's it. And almost always he's going the other way. A lot of good hitters are like that, they want to drive every pitch the other way."

Flippo said for a batting practice pitcher, it's actually satisfying when the hitter obliterates one of your offerings. That's what Ramirez has been doing lately. And Flippo has learned to appreciate Ramirez's rare skills from the distance of 60 feet, six inches.

"Until last year, I had never seen him on a regular basis," Flippo said. "He comes to us and he never seemed to be off balance on a swing or get fooled by a pitch, but he did in Spring Training and he did in April. He never seemed to be in his rhythm. But he does now."

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