One year ago today, Manny Ramirez returned to the Dodgers after serving his 50-game suspension for violating the performance enhancing drug policy of Major League Baseball. The suspension was an important test for the Dodgers, who passed by winning 29 of the 50 games Ramirez missed, actually expanding their divisional lead. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp emerged as offensive leaders of the club, both winning a Silver Slugger award last year and making the cover of the Dodgers media guide this year. However, even though Ramirez is no longer the unquestionable best hitter on the club, he is still an important piece of the Dodger puzzle.
Last July 3, Ramirez returned against the Padres to a Dodger-heavy crowd at Petco Park in San Diego. The Dodgers offense took to having him back in the lineup quickly, plating five runs in the first inning, leading to a 6-3 victory. Ramirez came back strong from suspension, hitting .333 with four home runs and 13 runs batted in his first 15 games, with a .429 on-base percentage and .688 slugging percentage. Then, on July 21, he was hit on the hand by Homer Bailey of the Reds. Ramirez sat out the next game, which happened to be Manny Ramirez Bobblehead night at Dodger Stadium. However, in one of the highlights of the season, Ramirez entered as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning, launching a grand slam off Nick Masset into the "Mannywood" section of seats in left field.
Even though the pinch hit home run, affectionately named the "Bobbleslam," sent Dodger fans into euphoria, Ramirez would not be the same after his hand injury. After July 21, including the grand slam, Ramirez hit just .255 with nine home runs in the final 62 games of the season. He did manage a .380 on-base percentage and .448 slugging percentage, so Ramirez was still a productive hitter, but not at the standard Ramirez himself had set.
Ramirez is a designated hitter playing in a league without a DH. At age 38, his legs are fragile. He is currently on the disabled list with an inflamed right hamstring, and was on the DL earlier in the season with an injured right calf. Even when Ramirez is healthy enough to play, he sits in day games after a night game, in an effort to keep him rested.
The Dodgers have played 162 games since Ramirez returned last year, the equivalent of a full season. They have an 88-74 record during that span, thanks largely to a productive outfield, including Manny:
|Dodgers Outfield Since July 3, 2009|
To put this production in perspective, this season there are only eight outfielders with a .900 OPS in at least 200 plate appearances, Ethier and Ramirez included.
In 2008, Ramirez almost literally carried the Dodgers farther into the playoffs than they had been in 20 years. Last season, the Dodgers showed they were more than just Manny. This season, currently three and a half games behind the Padres in the National League West, the Dodgers will need a healthy Ramirez down the stretch if they plan on making the playoffs for a third consecutive season.