Torre seeing signs of breakout for Manny

Torre sees signs of Manny breakout

LOS ANGELES -- Three regulars weren't in the starting lineup for the Dodgers on Saturday, but Manny Ramirez wasn't one of them.

Even though Ramirez hasn't performed up to his ridiculous production after last year's acquisition, he's still the focal point of the Dodgers' offense. The fact that he was robbed of a home run Friday night by Cubs center fielder Sam Fuld gave manager Joe Torre optimism that Ramirez's swing is returning.

"It's a good sign that he's going to center and right-center, rather than trying to pull the ball," Torre said. "The hit he got, he muscled it. When he's using the middle of the field, he gets better extension. When he goes to right, he's on the ball. He'll pull a mistake, but most of his power is from center to right-center."

Ramirez set the bar unreasonably high after last year's trade. He slugged 17 home runs with 55 RBIs and a .396 average in 55 games, a full-season pace of 50 homers and 162 RBIs. This year, he lost 50 games when he violated Major League Baseball's drug policy. He has 13 home runs, 45 RBIs and a .311 average over the 73 games in which he's been eligible to play.

At that pace, he'll finish with 20 homers and 70 RBIs. Project that pace over 162 games, and even if he hadn't been suspended, his numbers (29 homers, 101 RBIs) would have been well off the pace of his production last season. Since returning from suspension, Ramirez is batting only .289 with seven homers and 25 RBIs in 43 games.

"For him to repeat or to replicate, those were pretty awesome numbers to put up in the second half," Torre said.

Which doesn't mean Ramirez isn't trying to, especially after the protracted offseason negotiations that resulted in his late signing of a two-year, $45 million contract.

"I can't argue against that," Torre said at the suggestion that Ramirez is pressing because he feels obligated to carry the offensive load, especially after the suspension. "The fact we haven't scored a lot of runs, he knows how much we count on him and he's lost a little of his patience. It looks like he's getting it back."

Especially in the series earlier this week against St. Louis, Ramirez seemed to be swinging extra hard, opening up early and striking out often.

Patience, or lack of it, is borne out in his strikeouts to walks. Since Ramirez returned from suspension, he has struck out 38 times and walked 20 times. Before the suspension, it was 17 strikeouts and 26 walks. In two months last year, it was 38 strikeouts and 35 walks.

He's also had uncharacteristic trouble against left-handers this year. He's hitting .322 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs against righties, but only .262 with one homer and four RBIs against lefties (1.030 on-base plus slugging against right-handers vs. .783 against left-handers). In his career, he's been the opposite: 1.068 OPS against left-handers vs. .982 against right-handers.

The three regulars sitting Saturday were catcher Russell Martin, first baseman James Loney and right fielder Andre Ethier. Brad Ausmus caught Charlie Haeger because he has more experience with knuckleballers. Loney sat because he's 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against Cubs starter Ted Lilly. Ethier was 0-for-8 against Lilly.

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