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."