LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez took the field for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and with him came perhaps the most interesting story line of the remainder of the regular season.
The Dodgers' lineup looked a lot more imposing, with Ramirez back after sitting out 15 days because of a strained oblique. With Ramirez at shortstop instead of light-hitting Erisbel Arruebarrena or Miguel Rojas, the Dodgers have an offensive dimension at the position most rivals cannot come close to matching.
If, that is, Ramirez is hitting. If not, the Dodgers might have to consider whether they are better off without him in the lineup.
They could see why Sunday, in an 11-3 loss to the New York Mets. There was no need to make too much of one game, not when the Dodgers lost by eight runs and their starting pitcher was chased after three innings.
And not when Ramirez went hitless in four at-bats, failing to get the ball out of the infield, and struggled with the first two ground balls hit to him. Ramirez had not played since Aug. 8, and he returned without a minor league rehabilitation game.
"A little rusty," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.
For all the fanfare over Yasiel Puig's loud arrival last year, Ramirez was the Dodgers' biggest bat. When he was healthy, they were hot. He played in barely half the games, but he batted .345, with a .638 slugging percentage.
This is no ordinary shortstop. He might have been the best hitter in the league last season, and Mattingly was thrilled to write his name on the lineup card Sunday.
"It changes the lineup from the standpoint of the length of it and the number of guys you have to go through just to navigate it," Mattingly said. "He's a dangerous guy in that lineup, so it's good to have him back."
Ramirez is batting .274 this season, with a .450 slugging percentage. That puts more focus on his defense, considered below average by scouts and statistical analysts.
In the Mets' five-run third inning Sunday, Ramirez failed to stop a hard-hit ground ball a step or two to his right, a tough play but one that could have been turned into an inning-ending double play, then fielded a subsequent ground ball but bounced the throw to first base.
After the game, Ramirez said he was pleased that he could play with "no pain" and shrugged at Mattingly's assessment that he was rusty.
"Maybe," he said. "We'll see."
And the hard-hit ground ball?
"It was a bullet," Ramirez said. "Anything else? Negative stuff?"
The Dodgers were happy to take whatever Ramirez gave them on defense last year, because he was so dominant on offense. They went 51-26 (.662) when he started last year, 41-44 (.442) when he did not.
The numbers tell a different story this year. The Dodgers are 53-42 (.558) when he starts, 21-16 (.568) when he does not.
Ramirez was such an impact player on offense last year that the Dodgers all but put him in bubble wrap down the stretch, resting him frequently in September so he would be available in October. He batted .500 in the division series, but he suffered a fractured rib when he was hit by a pitch in the first game of the league championship series.
That performance in the first round last fall goes a long way toward cementing his place in the lineup, according to Mattingly.
"We know what he's capable of doing, in September and when you get into the playoffs," Mattingly said.
But the Dodgers are not in the playoffs yet, and Mattingly said Ramirez will need to play every day for now. The Dodgers lead the National League West by 41/2 games. At this time last year, they led by 91/2 games.
The best option -- for Ramirez and the Dodgers -- is for him to hit, and hit well enough that the team can overlook his glove. The Dodgers have 30 regular-season games left, time enough for Ramirez to show off his bat.
METS 11, DODGERS 3
KEY MOMENT: In the third inning, with the Mets leading, 2-1, David Wright hit a sharp ground ball to shortstop Hanley Ramirez. The ball was hit hard, but only a step or two to the right of Ramirez. If superior defenders Erisbel Arruebarrena or Miguel Rojas were playing shortstop, the Dodgers might have turned that ball into an inning-ending double play. But the ball went off the glove of Ramirez, and by the time the inning was over, the Mets led, 7-1.
CRAZY MOMENT: The Mets turned a triple play when Yasiel Puig tried to score from second base on what should have been a 5-4-3 double play. That gave the Mets a 5-4-3-2 triple play, and it was not particularly close. Manager Don Mattingly called Puig's attempt the "wrong play" and said he was especially disappointed because Puig had been thrown out on a similar play this season. The Dodgers have hit into two triple plays in a season for the first time since 1955, when they called Brooklyn home.
AT THE PLATE: Adrian Gonzalez had two doubles and a single in his three at-bats. His last six plate appearances: run-scoring single, three-run home run, sacrifice fly, double, double, run-scoring single. Dee Gordon hit his 12th triple, two more than all the Mets.
ON THE MOUND: The Dodgers yanked starter Kevin Correia after three innings, in which he gave up seven runs (five earned) and seven hits. In three starts since the Dodgers acquired him from the Minnesota Twins, Correia has a 6.43 earned-run average. In 23 starts for the Twins, he had a 4.94 ERA. The Dodgers plan to move Correia to the bullpen, with Hyun-Jin Ryu expected to be activated this week.
SHORT HOPS: The Dodgers activated Ramirez, who had not played since Aug. 8 because of a strained oblique, and optioned Arruebarrena to Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. Arruebarrena is expected to rejoin the Dodgers when rosters expand in September. ... Zack Greinke, who has been bothered by discomfort in his right elbow, reported feeling "good" the day after his start. He'll start again next weekend in San Diego. ... With the Dodgers getting routed, Rojas played left field for the first time in his career. In his nine seasons in the minors, he played one game in center field and one game in right field.
UP NEXT: The Dodgers are off Monday. On Tuesday, the Dodgers' Roberto Hernandez (7-9, 3.78 ERA) faces Arizona's Trevor Cahill (3-8, 4.54) at 6:40 p.m. PDT at Chase Field.
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