In the final regular-season game he'll play for the Texas Rangers this year, Nelson Cruz hit a solo home run off A's right-hander A.J. Griffin on Sunday to help the Rangers beat Oakland and narrow their deficit in the American League West to 2 1/2 games. It was Cruz's 27th homer of the season and 76th RBI – both team highs.
Cruz was among 13 players suspended by Major League Baseball on Monday for their connection to the South Florida clinic Biogenesis, receiving a 50-game suspension that leaves the Rangers without their top run producer until the playoffs, should they qualify.
Meanwhile, in West Sacramento on Monday night, the lineup of the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate featured one of the most prolific right-handed hitters in baseball history – Manny Ramirez, who batted cleanup for the Round Rock Express as the designated hitter in their 5-4 loss to the River Cats at Raley Field.
Ramirez, twice suspended for violating baseball's drug policy, began this season playing in Taiwan before signing a minor-league deal with the Rangers in early July, reportedly eyeing another shot at playing in the majors. The 41-year-old, whose 555 career home runs rank 14th all-time, last played in the majors in 2011 with Tampa Bay.
Recent reports, though, have indicated the Rangers aren't considering calling Ramirez up anytime soon – even with the loss of Cruz. Texas promoted outfielders Engel Beltre and Joey Butler from Round Rock on Monday to help replace Cruz, though assistant general manager Thad Levine said in Oakland over the weekend that Cruz's is "a bat that will be extremely difficult to replace."
Entering Monday, Ramirez's bat hadn't been making much of an argument. Ramirez, who declined an interview request, began the day with two extra-base hits in his last 10 games – both doubles – and no home runs since July 14. Overall, in 24 games, he was hitting .267 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 90 at-bats.
"I think the bat speed obviously has deteriorated from when he was in his prime – I think that's just normal wear and tear on a person's body," said Round Rick hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh. "But he's kept himself in good shape and does the things necessary to allow him success. He's shown times during BP that he possesses some power still. It just has not translated consistently into game action.
"What he's shown here is probably what you're going to get at the higher level – a guy that puts a professional at-bat together, and the power numbers probably aren't going to be what they were."
Ramirez, who went 1 for 8 over the first two games of this series, came up to scattered applause in his first at-bat Monday and worked a full count against River Cats right-hander Travis Banwart before grounding out to shortstop.
He had an RBI double to center field in the third but was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a triple. Ramirez flied out to left in the fifth and lined out to center in the eighth.
He cut a different figure across Raley Field than the last time he played there – last year, when his attempt at a comeback with the A's included a 17-game stint with Sacramento in which Ramirez hit .302 with no homers before requesting his release in mid-June. His trademark dreadlocks were gone Monday, his uniform slightly more form-fitting than in his heyday with the Boston Red Sox.
Both, said Express manager Bobby Jones, were among the "stipulations" put to Ramirez when he signed with the Rangers, by which Ramirez has gladly abided. Jones said Ramirez has been a "great" teammate and constant presence in the batting cage, where he takes a largely opposite-field approach.
"Is he driving the ball to right-center field? No. But he's hitting the ball over there and getting his hits," Jones said. "Again, he's been out for a while; he's coming back from Taiwan. Will it come? I don't know. I can't say."
Ramirez has played exclusively at designated hitter for Round Rock, which itself could limit his major-league opportunities, as teams may be less inclined to use a roster spot on a player who can't contribute defensively. Still, his coaches said, Ramirez doesn't seem content to play out his baseball career in the minors.
"He's got a plan, he wants to get back to the big leagues, and he's working on it," Jones said. "Now whether it happens or not, I don't know. But the drive and the desire for him to get back (are) there."