Dodgers players saddened, supportive
Manny's teammates 'disappointed' but ready to move on
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers players and coaches heard the news about Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension for use of a performance-enhancing drug in various ways.Andre Ethier woke up to a flurry of text messages and phone calls. Russell Martin first heard it while watching ESPN's SportsCenter. And Doug Mientkiewicz heard it from his wife, who received a phone call from a family friend.
But all of the Dodgers seemed to use the same four words to describe how they felt when they first heard the news about Ramirez -- shocked, surprised, saddened and, finally, as Martin put it, disappointed."Everyone's a little disappointed," Martin said. "I mean, he had his own section in left field. People love him here. So it's definitely tough but you have to move on." Moving on without Ramirez is certainly the next step for the Dodgers, as their young core of Martin, Ethier, James Loney and Matt Kemp is expected to produce without Ramirez in the lineup. But based on the reactions of the players, they feel like the team has made a huge step forward from last season at this time when they didn't have Ramirez in their lineup and their offense struggled. "We've had a chance to learn from him and it brought us confidence to be where we are right now," Ethier said. "It'd be tough to say we won't miss him in the lineup, but I feel we'll find a way to get the job done." Ethier is the player who could feel the most pressure to produce because he is having a career year batting after Ramirez in the lineup. Ethier is batting .317 with six home runs and 27 RBIs in 29 games this season. Ethier is out to prove that he can continue that pace without Ramirez batting in front of him. "I don't feel any more pressure than when I had to hit behind him with the pressure of if I don't hit, he won't get pitched to," Ethier said. "I don't know what more pressure could be put on me than that." The news was especially tough for Mientkiewicz, who is a 12-year Major League veteran and saw Ramirez's suspension as a blow to the game. "It's to the point where nothing shocks you," Mientkiewicz said. "But I think it's a sad day for baseball. It just seems like we were getting momentum as a business, but something like this brings us back to where we were two years ago. Bottom line is that are a lot of guys who are still unnamed and that's the hard part for me. Only the elite guys are getting pinpointed. " Ethier had interesting words to say about Major League Baseball's testing policy, saying he doesn't take any medication at all because of fear it could trigger a positive test. "I have no idea," Ethier said. "I don't take anything. You never know. Who knows what the exact process of the testing is? I know there's certain things that are clearly banned based on the paperwork we got in Spring Training, but I didn't go to college long enough to understand what those terms are. So I think [trainer] Stan [Conte] would be the best way to go because you should go to your trainer." The players, such as Ethier, said they still have Ramirez's back, but the harshest words came from third-base coach Larry Bowa, who has been an outspoken critic of players who use performance-enhancing drugs. "I'm turned off by players that try and test the system," Bowa said. "It doesn't make any sense." Loney seemed to be the most optimistic Dodger, saying that "50 games goes by fast" and that he expected the team "to still be on top" when Ramirez is eligible to return on July 3, pending rainouts. He credited Ramirez for changing the clubhouse atmosphere and it's something he said shouldn't change even though Ramirez is not allowed to be in uniform when the gates open at the stadium. "We just have to keep it loose and keep playing like we've been playing," Loney said. "He was so loose and positive so we'll just have to keep it going." The absence of Ramirez in the lineup will surely have an effect on the Dodgers' offense, but reliever Will Ohman said it will not change the mentality of a pitching staff that currently has the best ERA in the National League. "Anybody in this league that is affected by one of their own hitters being out of the lineup and it's affecting their pitching is sorely mistaken in their thought process," Ohman said. "Not having somebody in our lineup does not affect how I go after another hitter." For Xavier Paul, who was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque to take Ramirez's roster spot, his first promotion to the Major Leagues was bittersweet. "It's mixed emotions," Paul said. "I grew close to Manny in Spring Training. So to me, it's sad but also an opportunity to help the team any way possible." Juan Pierre will be the Dodgers' regular left fielder in Ramirez's absence but didn't want to talk about his expanded role or about Ramirez's suspension. "I pray for him and his family to get through this," Pierre said. "I wish him the best and that's all I got." It'll be impossible for Pierre to replicate what Ramirez brought to the Dodgers' lineup and to the clubhouse, but Ethier said there's no player in baseball that can replace Ramirez. "No one needs to get out of their comfort zone and try to replace him because he's his own thing and his own show," Ethier said. "There's no one like him."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.