Los Angeles Dodgers: Manny Being...A Team Player?

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IAugust 6, 2009

I want to propose something that would be terribly uncharacteristic of “Manny-being-Manny” in relation to his recent slump: what if Manny Ramirez feels obligated to play through a hand injury because of the recent developments with steroids and his 50-game suspension?

Ramirez was hit on the hand by a Homer Bailey 95-MPH fastball two weeks ago and might be just starting to feel back to normal from the bruised hand.

In the past, Manny was known to run away with the slightest strain of the hamstring, or really any injury he might be able to "diagnose" that day. However, there is a chance that in the new Mannywood era of his career, he has decided that he owes something to an organization that has embraced him every step of the way, no matter how uneven the ground below them. 

The key component to Manny feeling this way is Joe Torre.

Torre treats his players like they are his children. He disciplines them when needed, but he also embraces them for their talents. Manny is a handful and Torre knows that, yet the skipper has allowed Manny to be Manny while maintaining a happy clubhouse all the while.

I think Ramirez appreciates the way Torre has handled the whole situation. He has treated Manny greatly since joining the Dodgers, which I think has lead Ramirez to taking the field these past two weeks while not being 100 percent healthy.

Heck, you know the team loves the guy and wants to look out for him when Guillermo Mota drilled Prince Fielder in the ninth inning of a 17-4 blowout victory—just to defend Ramirez, who had been hit two innings earlier. The club knows the importance of a productive Manny and we are finally starting to see him give back the love with more than just his bat.

No more evidence is needed than the past two weeks to see the effects of Ramirez on the Dodgers’ lineup and why they need to make sure he feels comfortable and protected at all times.

Ramirez was mired in a two-week slump ever since electrifying a sellout Dodger Stadium crowd on July 22—his own bobble-head doll night—when he belted a pinch-hit grand slam to propel the Dodgers to a 6-2 win. This also led to a series sweep against the Cincinnati Reds.

Over a 10-game stretch since the slam, the Boys in Blue went just 4-6 and experienced their worst losing streak of the season. Ramirez was batting .167 (7-for-42) and had not driven in any runs until Tuesday night since the grand slam on bobble-head night.

With his home run Tuesday night, he had tied the longest he had ever gone without recording an RBI (44 at-bats in 1997 when he was with the Cleveland Indians is the longest streak).

Perhaps it was strictly coincidental, but Ramirez busted out for a big night Tuesday against the Brewers, driving home three runs and leaving the yard for the 12th time this season.

Hopefully, that outing helps him shake off this funk and puts him back on track to be a dominant hitter.

While he may have been playing through some pain, which could have slowed down his bat speed, the component to what caused the slump likely has nothing to do with his hand. It probably results from pitchers becoming more aggressive at attacking the inside portion of the plate against Ramirez. 

Manny is struggling with the inside pitch and opposing pitchers are attacking him from the inside out and he can’t seem to adjust. His hands look very slow and both extra base hits last night came on balls out over the plate.

He was beaten in his first at-bat with fastballs on the inside corner. Even before hitting his home run, he was unable to catch up to multiple inside fastballs, with none traveling more than 92 MPH.

Like most hitters, he likes to get his arms fully extended to generate power and crank his hips through the zone. That’s why pitcher go after him on the inside—it keeps his hands tied up and forces him to shorten up his swing in order to reach the pitch on the inside part of the plate.

The lack of RBI during the slump can’t be attributed to the others in the order around him, either.

Orlando Hudson hit second, right in front of Ramirez, from July 24-30. In that time, the team played seven games and he hit .267 with a .353. Hudson scored only two runs and although his average was somewhat low, his OBP is still well above the league average (.330), giving Ramirez plenty of chances to bring him around.

Torre recently moved Andre Ethier in front of Ramirez. Last season, Ethier benefitted from batting ahead of the slugger and had an outstanding August and September with Ramirez added to the lineup.

In five recent games in the two-spot, Ethier is batting .435 (10-for-23) and has an OBP of .500. He has scored four runs—two from his own home runs—but is already crossing the plate more frequently than Hudson.

Since the All-Star break, which includes six games prior to the hand injury (and before last night’s 2-for-4, three-RBI performance), Ramirez was hitting .210 (13-for-62) with two home runs and eight RBI. He had seen his average drop from .355 to .306 in that time.

The most concerning part of the slump was the high strikeout rate Manny is experiencing. He played 36 games in the first half of the season, recording 31 walks and 21 strikeouts. In the second half, he already has 19 strikeouts and just seven walks.

Torre attributes his tough luck and recent slump on a change in his approach to handling the outside pitch.

"He's taking a lot of balls away that he doesn't normally," Torre said. "Normally, when he takes a pitch away, it's a ball."

The difference that Manny showed Tuesday night was more patience and a better eye to capitalize on the mistakes that Gallardo made. He drove good pitches instead of fouling them straight back and as Torre pointed out, when he took pitches on the outside part of the plate, they were balls and not hittable pitches.

This season, he only has eight hits to right field, compared to 21 to left and 27 to center. Manny built his career on driving outside pitches into the gap in right-center and those balls are becoming groundouts to second base. He needs to improve on his ability to go with pitches away to the opposite field.

Ramirez finally squared up a couple of pitches in Tuesday night’s game to break out of the recent downturn.

In his second at-bat, he flew out to the warning track on a line drive that he stung but Mike Cameron was able to track down. He got his arms extended and drove the outside pitch to centerfield instead of rolling over on it or bailing out and tapping slowly to second base.

Later in the game, he left the yard and drove in his first run in 11 games. Ramirez smashed a two strike, two out breaking ball from Gallardo that hung over the middle of the plate.

Gallardo attacked Manny on the inside half throughout his first three at-bats in a very similar way that most pitchers have been going after him.

Manny also laced a two-RBI double down the left field line to add on in the Dodgers offensive outburst. It was an encouraging sign for fans in Southern California, who have been pondering what his sudden slump has been caused by.

Like I said, I think the guy wanted to play through the bruised hand. For the first time in his career, Ramirez has acknowledged through his on-field efforts that he has a responsibility to his teammates and manager to be out there every day contributing.

That means playing through injuries, which is something Manny has never done before.

PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers

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