Hanley coming to life, leading Dodgers' charge
Mattingly calls shortstop, who has nine-game hit streak, 'a special talent'
LOS ANGELES -- The nightly highlight reel that is Yasiel Puig has obscured another developing story out of Dodger Stadium: Hanley Ramirez is alive and raking.
The former darling of South Florida and fantasy leagues everywhere, Ramirez is showing the all-around game that made him a force for a dynamic run from 2006 through 2010 with the Marlins.
Behind Clayton Kershaw, an artist in dire need of some support, Ramirez delivered two singles and a walk against Tim Lincecum, driving in a run and scoring another in a 4-2 victory Wednesday night that completed a three-game sweep of the reeling Giants.
With five consecutive wins, the Dodgers find themselves only six games off the D-backs' pace in the National League West. The reigning World Series champions from San Francisco have dropped six of seven to fall two games below .500 but are only 3 1/2 behind Arizona in a division begging to be taken.
The Dodgers' run has coincided with six consecutive games in which Ramirez, the cleanup man, has driven in at least one run. He's batting .485 with 11 RBIs over a nine-game hitting streak he'll carry into a four-game series against the Phillies starting Thursday night.
"Hanley's really good," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He can really hit. None of that stuff surprises me. I'm watching him tonight and thinking about Manny [Ramirez]. That's a special talent."
This younger Ramirez, beaming in the afterglow, appreciated Mattingly's reference to Manny, another gift to the game from the Dominican Republic.
"It's a good compliment," Hanley Ramirez said. "He was a top hitter in the game, that level. To keep it working, you want to stay on that level."
Kershaw likes the way this lineup sets up with Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier surrounding Puig and Ramirez.
"With the way that the guys are swinging the bats -- obviously Hanley is swinging the bat unbelievable, and Puig is a pretty big threat -- and when you get Matt and Dre and Gonzo, that's five guys deep," Kershaw said. "That's the way they planned it to begin with. That's a tough patch to go through."
Lincecum, searching for his Cy Young Award-winning form, made that discovery in slipping to 4-8.
Ramirez missed a month recovering from a fractured left thumb suffered in the World Baseball Classic and then strained a hamstring five days after coming off the disabled list.
Making up for lost time in a hurry, he's hitting .375 with a .688 slugging percentage and .414 on-base percentage in 64 at-bats.
While Puig (.435 through 22 games) retains an almost mystical quality -- can he be for real? -- Ramirez's resume can't be disputed. The 2009 National League batting champion and runner-up in the Most Valuable Player balloting, he is reaching back, at 29, to recover the stature that was once his.
"I know what kind of player I am," he said. "My teammates remind me every day I come to the ballpark what kind of player I am. They tell me, 'Let it fly.'"
Back and shoulder issues cut him down in 2011. Surgery was performed on the left shoulder on Sept. 15, 2011.
"With injuries, you're thinking too much," Ramirez said.
He has watched Kemp this season make the same effort to recapture his power stroke after surgery on the right-handed hitter's front shoulder.
"I told him he's doing unbelievable," Ramirez said. "I was hitting .150. It's going to take a while to get back to full 100 percent. Surgery on the left shoulder is not easy. We're bottom-hand hitters following through."
Ramirez is back at his natural position, shortstop, after moving to third base in 2012 in Miami to accommodate Jose Reyes. Dividing the season between South Florida and Los Angeles following the July 25 deal that made him a Dodger, Ramirez showed power (24 homers, 92 RBIs) and speed (21 steals), but his .257 average was well off his .299 career figure.
"I was positive the whole time, working hard, telling myself I'm going to get out of this," Ramirez said. "Keep competing, be a good teammate, bring a good attitude."
Wearing his homeland's colors in the World Baseball Classic this spring, Ramirez played third, with Reyes at shortstop. The Dominican Republic rolled unbeaten through the competition.
When Ramirez fractured the thumb diving for a grounder in the title game against Puerto Rico, the Dodgers' brass cringed.
The Dominican Republic athletes celebrated with the same passion they took to the field, a feeling Ramirez hopes to transmit to his Dodgers teammates.
"A.J. [Ellis] and I were talking about that," Ramirez said. "He asked what it was like in the clubhouse every day when you came to the ballpark. We were happy, together. The main thing is we had a lot of fun. We kept it loose. I like to laugh during a game, keep it loose."
The older Ramirez took the Dodgers on wild postseason rides in 2008 and 2009.
Hanley Ramirez appears committed to matching Manny's influence.