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September 1, 2010

On the Beat

Manny Being Manny with a SAP Button

by John Perrotto

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Very little information was revealed by Manny Ramirez in the mercurial slugger's introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon. In fact, about the only thing that was clear during the bizarre 10-minute affair was that non-answers and clichés spoken in Spanish translate into non-answers and clichés in English.

Ramirez, who has long had an on-again, off-again relationship with the media, decided to try something different in his first dealings with the media in a White Sox uniform. He answered questions only in Spanish, with bench coach Joey Cora translating in the press conference room of Cleveland's Progressive Field.

Granted, it is not uncommon for athletes from foreign countries to ask for a translator. However, the twist to this is that the 38-year-old Ramirez has lived in the United States since he was 13, graduated from high school in the Brooklyn Heights section of New York City, and has given interviews in English from the time he was breaking into professional baseball as an Indians prospect in the Appalachian League after being their first-round draft pick in 1991. Yet there was Ramirez listening to and understanding the questions that were posed in English then giving the answers to Cora.

"He feels more comfortable with the language," Cora said after Ramirez was asked why he decided to speak Spanish when everyone attending the press conference was from English-language media outlets.

In any language, Ramirez had nothing remotely compelling to say.

When asked about his ugly exit from the Dodgers, Ramirez channeled Mark McGwire and said, "What's in the past is in the past and you can't bring that into the present."

As far as what he feels he can contribute to the White Sox, who trail the Twins by four games in the American League Central, Ramirez said, "I'm going to go and give 100 percent. Only God knows what will happen."

The White Sox acquired Ramirez from the Dodgers on Monday in a straight waiver claim, ending a quest that general manager Ken Williams began more than a month ago. Williams tried to acquire Ramirez at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

"The thought behind it was very simply for us that we not only want to get into the playoffs, but once we get into the playoffs we'd like to have a chance to do something special," Williams said. "The teams that are there have some good pitching, and you're going to need a hitter that can not only hit good pitching but hit good pitching in the clutch. This guy's been there and done that before, and it's just a matter, I think, of him getting his timing back and he'll be effective."

Williams was able to acquire Ramirez without giving back anything in return. The White Sox are responsible for paying the approximately $1 million left on Ramirez's salary for this season and the $2.8 million in deferred money on his contract that is not due until 2013. The Dodgers were willing to pay as much as $1.5 million to get a prospect back in a trade but the White Sox declined.

"We had an opportunity to put a player—various players, actually— into the deal and cut into some of the money, but we determined that we'd rather be awarded the player on a claim and keep our talent to be able to continue to be able to challenge for a championship every year," Williams said. "So that was our decision, at the end of the day, to absorb the dollars. And we feel good about it for the 2010 season and depending on what we do, we'll feel good about it when the rest of his money is due in 2013. But if we're all wearing rings around here, or we gave ourselves the best shot, you don't even have to wear the ring. You just have to feel like you gave it your best shot to capitalize on a season that can be great."

The White Sox' offense is in the middle of the American League pack, ranking sixth with an average of 4.78 runs per game. However, it has been inconsistent throughout the season and the White Sox are hopeful Ramirez can add a presence to the lineup batting in the fifth hole as the designated hitter that Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay haven't been.

Despite logging just 232 plate appearances with the Dodgers this season, Ramirez had a .328 True Average. Jones has a .279 TAv, but Kotsay stands at just .246.

"It's about 25 guys ... well, maybe about 31 because maybe three, four, five guys come up," Guillen said. "It's about everyone, man. OK, what if we have Manny here and he hits a three-run home run and we're down by seven runs? It doesn't mean anything. Everybody here has work to do. If we do what we're supposed to do, then we will make a run. If Manny comes here and is unbelievable, that might help, but that doesn't guarantee any wins. Not because he's here, 'Oh, we're in.'"

Ramirez gave the Dodgers a huge lift when they acquired him from the Red Sox at the trading deadline in 2008, posting a .396 TAv and 4.4 Wins Above Replacement Players in just 53 games. However, Guillen was quick to say he did not expect the same production this time.

"He has carried teams in the past. In the past," Guillen said. "He's a different player now. We don't expect him to carry us. We just want him to do his part."

Ramirez was not in the lineup Tuesday night as he spent all day flying from Los Angeles to Cleveland. However, he will start this afternoon against the Indians and the White Sox hope he will be able to play on a regular basis after being limited to 66 games with the Dodgers because of three disabled list stints due to hamstring and calf injuries.

"He's not 15 years old," Guillen said. "I expect him to be there as much as he can."

Ramirez was on deck getting ready to pinch hit for Brent Lillibridge in the ninth inning when A.J. Pierzynski connected for a three-run home runs that snapped a 1-1 tie and was the margin of victory in the White Sox's 4-3 win. Guillen felt Ramirez's presence helped chance the game, causing rookie reliever Frank Herrmann to think about who was on deck.

"I'm not going to say A.J. hit the home run because of Manny but you've got to be aware of Manny's presence in that situation," Guillen said. "I'm sure A.J. might have gotten some better pitches to hit there. It's a good start for Manny, even though he didn't get in the game. He seems happy to be with the White Sox and the guys on the team seems happy that he's here."

Meanwhile, Ramirez's 25-month tenure ended with the Dodgers in inglorious fashion. He did not start the final four games because the Dodgers felt that after all the leg injuries that Ramirez could not play the outfield without being injured.

"If he could have played the outfield a lot, I'd have loved to keep him because his presence in the order changes us," Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said. "The fact that the defense is difficult for him now, and he loves to hit, and that's what he wants to do, that led us to that point. It was time for him to have an opportunity to play in a place where his skills could be more on display than they were going to be here."

Ramirez's last act with the Dodgers came as a pinch-hitter Sunday when he was ejected after one pitch for arguing balls and strikes. Two days earlier, Ramirez had told Dodgers manager Joe Torre that he wanted to be traded to the AL so he could be a full-time DH. At that point, the Dodgers knew they had to let Ramirez go or he would almost certainly become a major distraction like he was with the Red Sox during the end of his 7 ½-year tenure that ended with his trade to Los Angeles.

"I'm sorry it went with one pitch," Colletti said. "If it was going to go with one pitch, I'd rather it go over the wall."

---

The Diamondbacks feel the time has come to suppress some offense at hitter-friendly Chase Field. They feel the way to do it is mimic the Rockies' approach at Coors Field and install a humidor.

"We're leaning toward doing that, for sure," Diamondbacks CEO/president Derrick Hall told FOXSportsArizona.com. "I think we could do that right away ... start to work with our friends over there (Colorado) and see what we can do."

The humidor isn't the only change that could be coming to Chase Field next season. The Diamondbacks are also considering raising the height of the fence in left field and pushing it back in right. It is all designed to help the Diamondbacks in their effort to build a team around a young pitching staff.

The Rockies installed a humidor after studies showed that the relative humidity is just about 10 percent in the dry area of Denver. Phoenix has a similar average humidity.

"I don't know if it cures everything scientifically, but it certainly does mentally," Hall said.

Diamondbacks left-hander Joe Saunders is in favor of a humidor, saying, "It's going to be good for the pitchers. It can only help." Slugging third baseman Mark Reynolds says he won't be bothered by a humidor: "They can have the pitchers throw rolled up socks, it doesn't matter. We are still going to come out here and play. If it builds confidence in our pitchers, the more power to them."

Meanwhile, the Brewers tried to help their hitters this past Sunday by keeping two roof panels closed on the right-field side of Miller Park. The configuration kept the entire infield in a shadow at the start of the game rather than having hitters standing in a shadow and pitchers throwing out of sunlight.

One player who benefitted was left fielder Ryan Braun, who went 4-for-4 in an 8-4 victory over the Pirates. Braun had been hitting .178 in home day games this season.

"There's no doubt it will help," Braun said. "It had been like trying to look into a bright light and see a white baseball.  It wasn't perfectly sunny, there were some clouds. I guess we'll have to wait until it's completely sunny to find out, but there's no doubt that it does make a difference."

Pitchers might not share the same enthusiasm. Pirates reliever Evan Meek suffered a bruised right hand when struck by a line drive by Braun. However, Braun does not see any drawbacks to the setup.

"I think the biggest issue is safety and I think it provides a more enjoyable experience for the fans because they can probably see the game better," Braun said. "It's not like it makes it more advantageous than it is at other ballparks. It's meaningful that they did something and that they do care. Whatever they do, it's the same for both sides. We'll see. You can't make a judgment off one day. But, either way, we appreciate it. There's no question that it makes at least a slight difference. Ultimately, we're not looking for any advantage. We just want it to be the same as everywhere else."

---

The Red Sox are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2005. They trail the AL East-leading Yankees by eight games and the wild-card leading Rays by seven games with just 30 remaining.

While Red Sox right-hander John Lackey says that it doesn't take a "math whiz" to know that overcoming the deficit is "doable," the reality is that the odds are steep. Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds Report gives the Red Sox just an 8.6 percent chance of reaching the postseason. Third baseman Adrian Beltre understands that but also knows what the Red Sox must do to make an improbable comeback.

"It's probably not going to cut it just to win series," Beltre said. "We're going to have to get six or seven or eight straight games to win it."

The Red Sox have not won more than four games in a row since sweeping back-to-back three-game interleague series against the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers in June. Their last four-game winning streak against AL teams came in May. Thus, the Red Sox understand the steep odds.

"We're trying to make it better sooner than later because if we wait until later it's going to be tough, and then we'll have to play in panic mode," Beltre said. "It's better for us to make it easier and gain some ground now and start to cut the deficit a little bit."

---

MLB Rumors & Rumblings: Reds outfielder Jim Edmonds is likely to retire at the end of the season. … Brewers catcher Gregg Zaun plans to play next season at 40 despite undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in May. … The Red Sox are expected to make a strong pitch to re-sign catcher Victor Martinez as a free agent. … Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn is likely to hit the free-agent market in November after failing to work out a contract extension. … Jones says he would prefer to re-sign with the White Sox rather than test free agency. … The Orioles are unlikely to try to re-sign right-hander Kevin Millwood or infielder Julio Lugo as free agents. … The Mets plan to give rookie right-hander Jenrry Mejia some starts in September. … Center fielder Nate McLouth was the beginning of the Braves' September call-ups on Tuesday, though it was technically the last day of August, as they will also bring up left-hander Michael Dunn, right-handers Kenshin Kawakami and Scott Proctor, catcher J.C. Boscan, and first baseman Freddie Freeman once Triple-A Richmond's season is over. … Top relief prospect Tanner Scheppers is expected be among the Rangers' call-ups along with catcher Taylor Teagarden, first baseman Chris Davis, left-handed relievers Doug Mathis and Zach Phillips, and right-handed reliever Pedro Strop.

---

Scouts' views on various major-league players:

Angels right-hander Trevor Bell: "He's not going to blow you away with stuff but he throws strikes and gets ahead in the count. He's got a chance to have a solid career as a No. 3 or No. 4 guy in the rotation."

Reds closer Francisco Cordero: "It's pretty simple with him. If he stays away from walks, he's a very effective closer. If he starts walking people, he gets in trouble. He's been throwing strikes lately and the Reds need to keep their fingers crossed that he keeps it up."

Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez: "Everyone wants to know what's wrong with him because he's quit winning games but it's not his fault. He's throwing the ball as well now as he was earlier in the season. The law of averages said he couldn't have a 1.00 ERA all year. He is still one of the top five pitchers in the major leagues in terms of stuff."

Braves right-hander Jair Jurrjens: "I think there is something with him. He's not getting ahead in the count, which he's always been able to do, and he doesn't look comfortable on the mound. Something's not right."

Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester: "I know everyone is saying (Clay) Buchholz is the Red Sox' best pitcher, but I'd put my money on Lester in a big game every time like when he beat Tampa Bay last Friday. He's got great stuff and outstanding mound presence. The only missing piece is learning to be a bit more efficient with his pitches but that'll come because he's still just a kid when you get down to it."

Rays right-hander Jeff Niemann: "He's gotten out of whack with his delivery, which is easy to do when you're 6-foot-9. Tampa Bay need to get him straightened out because he's a guy who doesn't rattle and I could see him coming up big for them in the postseason."

---

Three series to watch with probable pitching matchups with all times Eastern:

White Sox (72-60) at Red Sox (74-58), Friday-Sunday September 3-5
John Danks vs. Clay Buchholz, 7:10 p.m.; Gavin Floyd vs. John Lackey, 7:10 p.m.; Mark Buehrle vs. Josh Beckett, 1:35 p.m.

Rangers (74-58) at Twins (76-56), Friday-Sunday September 3-5
Derek Holland vs. Nick Blackburn, 8:10 p.m.; Colby Lewis vs. Carl Pavano, 4:10 p.m. C.J. Wilson vs. Brian Duensing, 2:10 p.m.

Reds (77-55) at Cardinals (69-61), Friday-Sunday September 3-5
Bronson Arroyo vs. Jaime Garcia, 8:15 p.m.; Travis Wood vs. Adam Wainwright, 4:10 p.m.; Homer Bailey vs. Chris Carpenter, 2:15 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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