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September 25, 2007
BY STEVEN KRASNER
Journal Sports Writer
BOSTON -- Manny Ramirez, who hasn't played since leaving the Aug. 28 game in New York because of a strained left oblique, is back in the starting lineup Tuesday night as the Red Sox open their final week of the regular season with the first playoff game a week or so away.
Ramirez is in left field and batting second.
Manager Terry Francona said moments ago during his daily press briefing that it was likely Ramirez would get two or three at-bats before calling it a night. He has missed the Sox' last 24 games, and Boston was 12-12 in those games without Ramirez.
The reason Ramirez is hitting second instead of his customary cleanup spot is that he can get those at-bats as quickly as possible as he readjusts not only to hitting in game situations again, but also getting his body back into shape for playing a full game in the field.
In essence, it is a spring-training type of usage for Ramirez, but the time frame for the slugger to be ready to go a full nine will be accelerated with the postseason around the corner. Ramirez has been taking regular batting practice sessions for almost two weeks, including a session at Fenway Park Monday on the team's day off.
Hitting is one thing, said Francona. Another is playing the outfield where Ramirez will be standing around and then ''going in directions (chasing fly balls and base hits) not preconceived.''
Jacoby Ellsbury, who has started in left field in the bulk of the games Ramirez missed, is expected to return to left when the Sox decide Ramiez's night's work is over.
Ramirez's teammates, not surprisingly, are happy to see him return to the lineup. And they joked about his position in the batting order, a spot generally reserved for a player with speed who can handle the bat.
"Hitting second he's going to move the runners over, play some small ball, drop down a bunt, do the little things," cracked Kevin Youkilis. "(If he plays well) he might get a (contract) extension. He's one of the (roster-expanding) September call-up guys."
"I think he's going to bunt the first time up," said Jonathan Papelbon.
David Ortiz, meanwhile, is well aware that where Manny hits in the order isn't going to change the Athletics' game plan for him.
"I told him he's not going to fool anybody unless he changes his name and cuts off his dreadlocks," said Ortiz.
The sight of Ramirez in the lineup, though, is a boost to the team because the Sox know they need his bat to succeed in the playoffs.
"It's great. We absolutely need him. We need to get the ball rolling and get it rolling in the right direction," said Papelbon.
Ramirez is batting .292 with 20 homers and 86 RBI.
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