LOS ANGELES -- The middle of the Dodgers' lineup is much more formidable with Hanley Ramirez locked in at the plate.
Ramirez hit .500 (11-for-22) with two doubles, three home runs and seven RBIs over the last six games of a nine-game road trip that ended Sunday in San Diego. The shortstop homered twice over the weekend against the Padres and finally looks healthy after thumb surgery and a strained hamstring limited him to four games through the season's first two months.
The Dodgers, third to last in the National League in runs scored, desperately need continued production from Ramirez.
"It's huge, because it's a force in your lineup," manager Don Mattingly said before Monday's game against the Giants. "He's not just a guy that can hit a little bit, he's a guy that's dangerous. He's a pure hitter. It's huge to have him in that lineup every day."
Adrian Gonzalez has been consistent all season and rookie Yasiel Puig has provided a power bat since being called up two weeks ago. But Ramirez might be the key to fixing the club's offensive woes.
"It sure is a lot easier for me to write a lineup," Mattingly said.
Kemp, Van Slyke nearing return to Dodgers
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers are finally getting healthy, and outfielders Matt Kemp and Scott Van Slyke could be activated from the disabled list by the end of a three-game series against the Giants.
Kemp and Van Slyke each played in their third Minor League rehab game with Triple-A Albuquerque on Monday and will return to Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, when the club's medical staff will evaluate them.
Kemp, on the DL since May 30 with a strained right hamstring, went 1-for-4 with a double, a stolen base and two runs scored while playing seven innings in center field Monday. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said the hamstring did not bother Kemp in his first two rehab appearances.
Kemp has been sidelined for almost a month, so the Dodgers want to make sure he gets his timing down at the plate before they activate him.
"We still feel like he needs at-bats," Mattingly said before Monday's series opener against the Giants. "I'll get a chance to talk to him tomorrow and we'll see how he feels. I don't think he wants come back until he's ready to go and has his timing."
Van Slyke, out since June 11 with left shoulder bursitis, is 2-for-12 in three rehab games. He will play Tuesday's day game with the Isotopes (Kemp won't) and then return to Los Angeles.
Mattingly said Van Slyke could be activated Wednesday, but said he's "in the same boat" as Kemp.
"He hasn't swung the bat great yet," the manager said. "We want to make sure his timing is good, too."
Ethier a 'savior' in center field for Dodgers
LOS ANGELES -- Andre Ethier has done well filling in for Matt Kemp in center field, which has made things a lot easier for the Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly.
Ethier started his 18th game in center field Monday. He's looked comfortable in his new position since moving over from right when Kemp went down with a hamstring issue at the end of May.
"He's been a savior, really," Mattingly said of Ethier, who played just one game in center last year. "I can't imagine what we'd be trying to do here if we didn't have him playing some center. I think he's been great. He gets really great jumps and he gets really good reads."
While Kemp is likely to return from the disabled list this week, Mattingly said Ethier would still see time in center field when Kemp comes back.
The Dodgers could also activate Scott Van Slyke from the DL this week. Carl Crawford is about two weeks away from returning from a strained left hamstring. With the outfield soon to be crowded, rookie right fielder Yasiel Puig won't see his playing time cut.
"Yasiel is going to play," Mattingly said. "We'll work around it."
With Ethier's ability to play both center and right, it sounds like he will move around when the Dodgers have their full complement of outfielders.
"We don't want to make three guys change spots," Mattingly said. "We want one guy to change. So that's what we'll try to do."
• Sandy Koufax made his Major League debut June 24, 1955, pitching two scoreless innings of relief against the Brewers at age 19.
• Carl Crawford continues to rehab his strained left hamstring in Arizona at the Dodgers' Spring Training facility at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, but Mattingly said the left fielder has not progressed to running full speed.
• Mattingly said injured starter Josh Beckett is feeling better in his rehab process, which is aimed at reducing the numbing sensation in the fingers of Beckett's pitching hand, but the manager said it was not a dramatic improvement.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.