Manny jumps back into action in Triple-A debut
No time wasted as slugger swings at first pitch, goes 1-for-3 with Round Rock
ROUND ROCK, Texas -- Time is of the essence for Manny Ramirez, the 41-year-old slugger attempting a comeback with the Texas Rangers after a two-year absence from the Majors. So it makes sense Ramirez wasted very little of it Sunday in his debut with the Triple-A Round Rock Express, swinging on the first pitch he saw -- a sinking fastball inside -- and looping it into shallow right field for a single.
Ramirez used the same approach in the bottom of the third against Omaha starter Yordano Ventura, the No. 51 rated prospect by MLB.com. But instead of a base hit, Ramirez turned the pitch into an inning-ending 6-3 groundout with a runner on to squelch tepid chants of "Manny, Manny!" that arose all night from the announced crowd of 8,910 every time No. 99 made an appearance.
Thrice more Ramirez went to the plate in Round Rock's 4-0 win over the Storm Chasers, going 1-for-3 with a single, a groundout, a swinging strikeout, a walk and two runners left on base.
"Not bad for not playing in two weeks or facing a pitcher," said Ramirez, who batted cleanup and admitted to battling nerves. "I've got to make some adjustments. Haven't faced a guy in two weeks and [Ventura's] throwing 100."
As for getting out to such an impatient start?
"I was just trying to get a pitch to hit," Ramirez said. "I was just trying to get comfortable."
When allowing himself to see more than one pitch against Ventura, Ramirez struggled, taking two big hacks on fastballs he couldn't catch up to in the fifth inning. He drew a walk in the eighth off reliever Michael Marriott and was replaced by a pinch-runner.
The Rangers signed Ramirez to a Minor League deal July 3, a move general manager Jon Daniels says was a low-risk option for a club that's gotten so-so production from its designated hitters and needs a right-handed bat.
"We'll evaluate him as we go," Daniels said. "No deadlines, no end dates. If he's productive and we feel he fits our culture in the clubhouse, then we'll give him an opportunity. If either of those ends don't pan out, then no harm, no foul."
No formal timetable has been placed on Ramirez's progression to the Majors, but he said before Sunday's game that the injury to Lance Berkman won't cause him to accelerate his expectations. Berkman, the Rangers' designated hitter, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with left hip inflammation on Sunday.
With four starting pitchers on the disabled list, the Rangers will likely use a three-man bench until the July 15-18 All-Star break, with manager Ron Washington planning to plug Berkman's vacancy with a by-committee approach rather than one single player. Another in-house option, along with Ramirez, is Mike Olt, who entered Sunday's game hitting .192 with the Express, but cranked out two hits.
The difference between starting pitching in Taiwan and Triple-A, Ramirez says, is 91- to 92-mph heat to 95-96 and faster. Because of that, compounded with rust and age, Ramirez knows an adjustment period is forthcoming.
"It's gonna take time -- everything's not falling in place in one day," Ramirez said. "Big jump from Taiwan."
Ramirez hasn't played in the Majors since 2011 with Tampa Bay. Even then, he only registered one hit (1-for-17) before announcing his retirement upon being served a 100-game suspension for failing a drug test. Ramirez left the EDA Rhinos of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan on June 19. With the Rhinos, he hit .352 (64-for-182) with eight homers and 43 RBIs in 49 games.
The Express have three more home games, followed by a four-game road trip to Omaha. The Minor League All-Star break follows, from July 15-17. After that, the Express will resume action July 18 with a four-game homestand. Ramirez expects to be in the lineup Monday.
Ramirez, No. 14 all-time with 555 career homers, started last season in the A's organization with Triple-A Sacramento before asking for his release on June 15. He has served his 50-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy in the Minors and would be eligible to play for the Rangers, who are currently a half-game back in the American League West.
"I'm just gonna go day by day and keep progressing and see what happens," Ramirez said. "I've waited for this for a while."
Oh, and as for that haircut the Rangers required of him? Ramirez doesn't have to wait to know how he feels about axing off his famed dreads.
"I love it," Ramirez said. "It was a good move."
Trey Scott is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.