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Manny returns, but Rox like their team

Manny returns, but Rox like their team

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta was brought up believing baseball is a team game. Well, he still believes that, no matter what last year told him.

Manny Ramirez

The Dodgers' trade for outfielder Manny Ramirez at last summer's non-waiver deadline transformed them from just another struggling team in the all-the-same National League West to a division champion.

"I didn't think one guy was going to be able to do that much," Iannetta said. "He proved me wrong. He did a ton for them. They did a lot better. He put them over the top."

On Tuesday night and Wednesday, the Dodgers and Ramirez hammered out a two-year, $45 million contract. Now the Rockies and the other NL West teams are left to wonder if the Dodgers have swung the balance of power in the division before anyone has swung the first regular-season bat.

Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe gives a tip of the cap to Ramirez for last year's push. But this year, Hawpe said, is a different situation.

"One guy doesn't change 162 games, I don't care what anybody says," Hawpe said. "That's because you never know with injuries or anything else."

Ramirez is a notorious opponent, and a notoriously mercurial teammate. After becoming so unhappy with the Red Sox that he threatened to drag that club into oblivion, he went to the Dodgers, whose younger players weren't enamored with old-school tough guy Jeff Kent as clubhouse leader. Ramirez's dreadlocks, his smile, and his big bat (.396, 17 HRs, 53 RBIs after the deal) were what the Dodgers needed.

Rockies left-handed veteran Alan Embree has as complete a picture of Ramirez as anyone, as a teammate with the Indians and the Red Sox.

"I've seen him put a team on his back and carry it at times, especially when there were key injuries to guys around him," Embree said. "If Manny is happy and is in a good spot, his numbers speak for themselves. Even when he's unhappy, he can still rake."

Embree pitched briefly for the Yankees in 2005, but didn't face him in any of those regular-season grudge matches. They've had few meetings -- Ramirez is 1-for-4 with two strikeouts and no walks against Embree -- but those at-bats stick out.

"He's just one of those guys you put in your memory banks," Embree said. "You pitch to him when you have to, and you don't make mistakes over the plate. I am still aggressive. I'm aware that it's Manny, but if I execute my pitches, I can get him. There's just not as much room for error."

The Rockies went from participating in the World Series in 2007 -- where Ramirez and the Red Sox swept them -- to 74-88 last year. But Ramirez and the Dodgers were well down on the list of the Rockies' problems.

The Dodgers won the season series, 10-8, but the teams split six games after the trade. The Rockies had far greater issues with the D-backs (3-15). So Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba smiled and asked himself the first question.

Well, sort of.

"Now that he signed with the Dodgers, blah-blah-blah-blah," Torrealba said. "Guess what? We still have to play our game. Obviously, they're going to have a better lineup than they already have. But I think we've got enough pitching to do the job."

The Rockies actually could receive a small lift from the Ramirez signing.

With the Ramirez signing, the Dodgers' lineup is being praised as dangerous. Meanwhile, a lineup the Rockies feel is quite talented is being ignored, or downgraded because the team dealt its power-hitting star, Matt Holliday, to the Athletics.

The Rockies that were asked about Ramirez were careful not to disparage any other batting order. Besides, they have to correct last year's issues with runners in scoring positions and other clutch situations. But the feeling was they feel they're at least as good as anyone in the division.

"You just keep it to yourself -- it's not something you go around talking about," Hawpe said. "Let the media do that.

"But I don't think there's any better hitter in our division than our left-right combination of Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins. They're two of the most professional hitters in our division. Troy Tulowitzki had the best rookie year in our division two years ago. Chris Iannetta and [Dodgers catcher] Russell Martin were very similar players last year. Martin gets a lot of praise, deservedly so, but Iannetta is right there with him.

"So we'll just play."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }