The dreadlocked slugger returns after serving a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy Friday night in the opener of a three-game road series against the San Diego Padres.
Petco Park is expected to be sold out with plenty of Dodger fans making the roughly two-hour drive south to see the return of one of the majors’ best and most enigmatic players. That support could counter the expected boos from the home fans who are eager to taunt Ramirez.
“I think the Dodger-Padre series down here always brings a little bit more energy but I think this will be heightened because of Manny, because he is one of the true lightning rods in the game today,” San Diego manager Bud Black said.
Ramirez was hitting .348 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 27 games when he was suspended on May 7. There was evidence Ramirez used human chorionic gonadotropin, a fertility drug that’s banned by baseball, a person familiar with the suspension told The Associated Press.
Los Angeles (50-29) was 21-8 and held a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL West at the time. The Dodgers, though, didn’t suffer without Ramirez, going 29-21 and increased their division lead to 7 1/2 games.
The Dodgers’ lineup, however, should be happy to see Ramirez back after scoring eight runs while losing three of their last five contests. Los Angeles averaged 5.5 runs with Ramirez, but slumped to 4.4 since his suspension.
The Dodgers beat Colorado 1-0 on Wednesday in their most recent contest.
“We’ve been lucky to win a lot of close games,” manager Joe Torre told the Dodgers’ official Web site. “We’ve made the most out of the runs we’ve scored. Hopefully, Manny will give us a more consistent offense. I think the presence he brings to the lineup is a security blanket for the rest of the guys.”
Ramirez, who largely avoided the media while making a handful of minor league starts in preparation for his return, seems eager to let his play speak for himself.
“I didn’t kill nobody, I didn’t rape nobody, so that’s it, I’m just going to come and play the game,” he said.
Ramirez is hitting .455 (5 for 11) with two homers and three RBIs in his career against the right-hander, who’s won two straight starts and is coming off his best outing of the season. He allowed one hit and struck out nine in eight innings of a 2-0 victory at Texas on Sunday.
Gaudin, who’s allowed five earned runs while striking out 28 over his last three starts, gave up six runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 7-3 loss at Los Angeles on May 3 in his only previous start against the Dodgers.
After going 1-1 with a 1.62 ERA in his first three starts, the right-hander is 1-3 with a 5.13 ERA in his last four. Kuroda is 3-1 with a 4.78 ERA in five starts against the Padres. He gave up a run in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-1 victory at San Diego on April 6.
The Padres dropped their second straight contest with a 7-2 home loss to Houston on Thursday in a game that featured a 52-minute delay due to a swarm of bees.