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Manny's return ripples through LA's lineup

Manny's return shakes up lineup

SAN DIEGO -- Manny Ramirez's return had an impact on the Dodgers as soon as Friday night's lineup against the Padres was posted.

Not only was Juan Pierre returned to the bench as expected, but manager Joe Torre returned Rafael Furcal to the leadoff spot, even though Furcal is struggling through a season-long offensive slump and has a .313 on-base percentage -- the lowest in the starting lineup.

Manny Ramirez

"Are you sure?" asked Furcal when told. "I thought I was eighth. I didn't even know. It doesn't matter. I'm ready."

Ramirez agreed.

"Now that I'm back here," Ramirez said, "he's back there. He's going to get hot."

Torre hopes so. He said he decided to go back to the top of the lineup he was using before Ramirez was suspended. That meant Furcal batting first, followed by Orlando Hudson, Ramirez and Andre Ethier.

"It's the way we started the season," Torre said. "It's the way we envisioned it, with the two switch-hitters at the top of the order. There will be games that Juan plays center field to give Matt [Kemp] or Andre a blow."

The only major change from the pre-suspension lineup was moving Casey Blake to the fifth spot as protection for Ethier. Blake started the season batting eighth.

Although he's 1-for-16 in his past five games entering Friday, Blake hit .319 with 34 RBIs in 46 games during Ramirez's suspension. Ethier, who is 2-for-19 in his past five games, saw his average fall 60 points during Manny's suspension, but he assumed the power role and leads the club with 15 homers and 52 RBIs.

"Ethier's batting average suffered from Manny's absence," Torre said. "He put a lot of pressure on himself. We'll see what this looks like."

Blake was followed in Friday's lineup by James Loney, Russell Martin and Kemp.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Ramirez, the Dodgers moved Hong-Chih Kuo from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list, although that doesn't reflect the recent good news on Kuo's elbow. Kuo pitched well in Arizona with no physical setback.

The Dodgers also activated pitcher Claudio Vargas from the 60-day disabled list. Vargas, originally a candidate for the fifth-starter spot, was sidelined near the end of Spring Training with a strained elbow tendon. In mid-April, he received a platelet injection similar to the one that got Takashi Saito back on the mound last year.

"It feels very good so far," Vargas said. "This is my chance, and I'm going to do it. I did it before."

Vargas made 10 Minor League appearances and could have declared free agency if the Dodgers hadn't promoted him. For him, the promotion amounts to a tryout, as management needs to see if he can be effective against Major League hitters.

Vargas is definitely not needed at this time, as his arrival means the Dodgers, with two days off in a five-day span, are carrying 13 pitchers, four of them long relievers (Vargas, Jeff Weaver, James McDonald and fifth starter Eric Milton).

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