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Pain-free Hanley wants to be 'Dodger for life'

Star shortstop enters camp in good health, but without contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When Hanley Ramirez reported to Spring Training on Tuesday, he had no pain in his ribs and no pain in his back.

He also had no contract extension. And when pressed on the topic by reporters, that seemed to really pain him. Up to that point, Ramirez was eager to proclaim his health and happiness with his current team.

"I want to be a Dodger for life," he said.

Of course, that's where the contract extension comes into play. Ramirez gave an interview over the winter in the Dominican Republic, indicating that talks with the club had begun. He is eligible to be a free agent after this season. So was Clayton Kershaw, who leveraged the timing into a $215 million contract with the Dodgers.

At 30, Ramirez is nearly four years older than Kershaw, who turns 26 next month. He also has the chronic back injury, which manager Don Mattingly said led to the left hamstring strain that put Ramirez on the disabled list last year.

Ramirez, who also missed most of April after ligament surgery in his right thumb, said he took daily therapy on the back during the offseason and believes it will be managed better.

"I think I'm stronger and I've got to stay on top of it, and by exercising I'll be fine," he said. "I feel the difference right away. Now, it's perfect."

Ramirez said the two ribs that were fractured by a Joe Kelly 95-mph fastball on a 1-2 count in the first inning of Game 1 of last year's National League Championship Series, have also healed. That injury rendered Ramirez useless and disrupted the offense in a series the Dodgers lost in six games. In the earlier playoff series against the Braves, Ramirez went 8-for-16 with a stunning six extra-base hits that tied a franchise postseason record and a Division Series record.

"If Hanley had been healthy all the way, it definitely would have changed everything," said teammate Adrian Gonzalez. "That's one of the big keys to us losing the series."

Ramirez said the disappointment from that injury, and the series result, remains a downer "even right now, but what are you going to do? You've got to clear your head for 2014. I'm with a group of guys that wants to win."

The injuries limited Ramirez to only 86 games during the regular season, but in those games, he hit a career-high .345 with 20 homers, 57 RBIs and a 1.040 OPS. Projected over a 162-game season, Ramirez would have hit 37 homers and driven in 107 runs. But how many games can Mattingly expect from Ramirez without wearing him down and risking more injuries?

"It's hard to do anything other than make sure he gets his days [off]," said Mattingly. "We'll give him regular rest. He's not ancient, but he's not 20 anymore. We'll break it up a little more. With Hanley, we'll take whatever we can get. We want to keep him healthy.

"It's like with Carl Crawford. He wants to play every day, but last year we found out about four of five games -- too many in a row with a break -- he seems to go a little worse. Hanley's the same way. You can see with his swing and his body language when he needs a day. This is a big year for Hanley. He wants to prove he can stay on the field and we want him to."

Which brings us back to the contract, and the abrupt end of the Ramirez interview.

"What can I say?" he responded when asked about the extension. "I don't think about that right now. I want to win, you know? Those things will take care of themselves. Nothing I can do right now. I want to be a Dodger for life. I just want to keep winning. That's what we get paid for."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for

Los Angeles Dodgers, Hanley Ramirez