Slugger begins rehab stint

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Shortly after arriving in Albuquerque, Manny Ramirez vowed that he wouldn't do interviews until his suspension ends.

"I ain't talking today, baby," he declared. "Write what you want."

Manny being Manny, that lasted about an hour.

After going through stretching, warmups, batting practice and shagging flies in the outfield, Ramirez returned to a cramped corner of the Albuquerque Isotopes clubhouse and held court.

One of the first questions was about whether he used steroids.

"I'm not talking about it anymore," he said. "I already said what I'm going to say. I'm here to do my rehab, you know, and (go) to the game and get a couple at-bats and get back to the big-league team."

The Los Angeles Dodgers slugger is in Albuquerque to get into playing shape as he prepares to return from a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug rules.

He was listed as leadoff hitter and playing left field tonight for the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate. Albuquerque Isotopes manager Tim Wallach said Ramirez will play four innings tonight, five on Wednesday and seven on Thursday.

"It's more to get him on the field, to get him some innings out in left field, physically get him moving around," Wallach said. "The at-bats are important as well, just to see live pitching."

It wasn't certain if Ramirez will see the series finale on Friday.

"I'm sure they'll let me know on that soon," Wallach said.

Ramirez is expected to rejoin the Dodgers on July 3 at San Diego. He shrugged off questions about his public image, coming after several Albuquerque fans said Monday they disapprove of his drug use but were still excited to see him play.

"People love me everywhere I go," Ramirez said. "I'm excited to bring a lot of joy to a lot of people here. I feel good. I'm happy that I'm here."

Ramirez, who flew into Albuquerque aboard a Southwest Airlines commercial flight, took the field for warmups wearing a red Isotopes hat under his dreadlocks. He wore a white sports garment and white pants.

He said his plan was to work back into playing shape. Asked if he was close, he replied: "Not really close. I haven't played like in 50 days, but I'm going to catch up slowly, day by day."

Isotopes infielder Blake DeWitt, who has shuttled between the Dodgers and Albuquerque this season, said Ramirez can be a positive influence in the minor league clubhouse.

"He knows how to get ready," DeWitt said. "The guy's done this a long time. He's had a ton of success. ... I'm sure he's going to be trying to see a lot of pitches, get his timing down."

Wallach said he spoke with Ramirez and offered to do whatever the slugger needs to prepare for his return to the majors. He also said they didn't bother to go over the signs.

"I told him he's got the green light, not to worry about the signs," Wallach said, laughing. "I won't be bunting or hitting-and-running with him. If he wants to run, he can run."

In Chicago, Dodgers manager Joe Torre was thrilled that his suspended slugger was playing ball again.

"I don't care what the results are, I just want to get him in game situations," said Torre, whose team was playing the White Sox. "He hasn't been missing for this period of time before. As much work as you do in the weight room and running on the field, it's still not the same as playing in a game. It's the game situation that sort of changes the atmosphere and your approach. I need to get him a number of games to get into the competition."


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