Manny's at ease as Dodgers slip in NL West

LOS ANGELES – Try to have a conversation with Manny Ramirez(notes) about hitting. Just try.

He dances around the hitting questions. Literally dances around them. One-hand-over-his-head-the-other-on-his-hip-doing-uncomfortable-things dances, with a silly little smile on his face and a bowl of oatmeal with fruit dangling overhead.

Besides, he says, he's hitting great.

He says it doesn't matter because, you know, aren't there eight other guys?

He says it's all good because the Los Angeles Dodgers are winning.

He says there's no list anymore. (What?) He says he was chewing potassium gum in 2003. Seriously, he can be a bit odd.

Presumably, he knows better. Because he's not hitting, so a lot of guys aren't hitting, and partly as a result the Dodgers aren't winning.

But, it's all good in his corner of the clubhouse, where the salsa music never stops and neither does the messing with Rafael Furcal(notes).

"Me and Raffy," he says, "we're going to start carrying the team soon."

Furcal shakes his head. Waves a hand at Manny. Gives him a look that begs him not to drag him into this.

"We are," Manny says.

"C'mon, man," Furcal says, but can't hide a smile either.

Maybe they are.

Now, of course, would be a good time, that is if the Dodgers aren't going to piddle away every last ounce of what was an un-piddle-away-able lead just a few weeks ago.

As it is, the lead is about a third of what it was, they whiffed on Cliff Lee(notes) at the trade deadline, they just had a starter take a line drive off the head, they've lost more often than they've won for a month, they could barely get John Smoltz's(notes) agent to return their calls so grabbed Vicente Padilla(notes) instead (fortunately for them), they had their closer get all wobbly on them and in the meantime have had their offense tank.

Other than that, it's been a helluva summer.

"Come see me when we're not in first place," Manny says a few hours before the Rockies inched to within 3½ games.

A big league scout who has seen a lot of him lately says it looks as though Manny is simply guessing wrong, and he's been guessing a lot. Right-handers in Arizona last weekend were throwing changeups in on Manny, something you'd hardly ever see before. So maybe it's the pitchers, and that will change, swing back toward Manny. It always has. But, maybe it's not. Maybe this is about missing 50 games and never finding anything reliable in the box.

"He hasn't looked quite right all season," one teammate said.

Maybe the suspension and the list and all the talk about them come with too heavy a burden, emotionally.

And maybe he needs his synthetic testosterone, assuming he hasn't doubled back for a therapeutic use exemption and isn't already on it again.

Who knows? The only guy who does is batting .252 since the All-Star break, took another oh-fer in a loss Wednesday night against the Cardinals and is dancing suggestive circles around a reporter's notebook.

"Sometimes he loses patience," manager Joe Torre says. "He had four great at-bats against Danny Haren last weekend. Then next two days it looks like they weren't going to throw him strikes and he wasn't accepting that."

So, he swings so hard sometimes the gear flies off him.

"That's the impatience there," Torre says.

And the burden? Batting third and, lately, cleanup since his return from the suspension, Manny has eight RBIs since July 22. That's about two a week. He has two home runs in August.

"I don't sense any change in his personality," Torre says, "other than we haven't been scoring runs and he feels solely responsible for it."

Just that.

"Hey," Doug Mientkiewicz(notes) said, "the more outs he makes now the more dangerous he gets in October."

There is, of course, the small matter of getting there first, which once looked like a lock and now looks like there's still some baseball to be played.

"You don't think we're going to the playoffs?" Manny says.

Like his feelings were hurt, or something.

They'll go. Probably. Maybe it depends on him.

"Me?" he says. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. Remember, I'm almost in the 600 club. Relax."

He says he's fine. He says he'll hit and that, either way, the Dodgers will win.

And then he dances.

"You know what," he says. "Every morning when I wake up, I'm happy. So, write it down. What am I doing at the plate? I want you to write it. What am I doing?"

He's whispering and pointing to the notebook. I don't know. I don't understand the question. Waiting for the playoffs? Getting beat inside? Making outs? Swinging hard in case he hits it? He can be odd.

"I'll hit," he says. "Don't you worry."