ROUND ROCK, Texas — Manny Ramirez didn’t waste any time getting in the swing of things in his latest bid to return to the big leagues.
The 41-year-old slugger hit the first pitch he saw for a single in his debut for the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A club at Round Rock on Sunday, three days after signing with the Rangers on a minor league contract.
Facing a top Kansas City pitching prospect in right-hander Yordano Ventura of Omaha, Ramirez hit a soft line drive to right field leading off the second but was stranded there. He grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the third — again hitting the first pitch.
With the cheers growing louder for each at-bat, Ramirez struck out swinging on a 94 mph fastball from Ventura to end the fifth.
He walked against reliever Michael Mariot in the eighth and was taken out for a pinch-runner.
“The future is greater than the past,” Ramirez said after the game.
A kinder, gentler Ramirez said he feels no pressure and has no timeline two years after his last appearance in the majors with Tampa Bay.
The 12-time All-Star who once forced his way out of Boston and twice was suspended for testing positive for banned drugs said before the game he was “so happy to get a chance to play the game I love.”
“We all do a lot of things when we are young, but if you can make it through the fire, you are changed, made better and ready for anything else,” said Ramirez, who was sporting much shorter dreadlocks after getting them cut to conform with Texas’ minor league rules.
He shaved the sides of his head because he said it makes him feel cooler in the Texas heat.
Ramirez retired rather than face a 100-game ban in his second suspension when he was with the Rays in April 2011.
He served a 50-game ban for a positive drug test while with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009.
The lifetime .312 hitter was in Los Angeles because he forced his way out of Boston, where he won two World Series. He didn’t want the Red Sox to pick up the option on his contract so he could sign a more lucrative deal elsewhere.
While Ramirez is 14th on the career home run list with 555, he has just 28 since the start of 2009 because of injuries and the drug suspensions.
He was 1-for-17 without a homer for the Rays when the drug suspension hit. A comeback attempt with Oakland last year failed.
Ramirez recently finished a three-month stint in Taiwan. He hit .352 with eight homers and 43 RBIs for the Rhinos, but wanted to return to his family in New York and then put out the word that he preferred to play either in the U.S. or Japan.
“I am just happy, my wife is happy,” Ramirez said. “I am working very hard and we’ll see where it goes. But it is a fun ride.”
“It will be interesting to see if he can help this team win,” Rangers outfielder David Murphy said last week. “From what I’ve seen in the past, it’s hard to believe that he can’t help us.”
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said part of the deal was Ramirez agreeing to cut his hair and “comply with our minor league rules on appearance and discipline.”
“It’s kind of a no-risk flier,” Daniels said, indicating there was no time frame for him to be called up to the majors.
“We like giving guys second chances. We know on and off the field the good and bad in Manny’s career. But we’re inclined to give him an opportunity here.”
The Rangers didn’t see Ramirez play in Taiwan, nor were they among the teams that worked him out in Florida recently, Daniels said.
“We’re really just kind of going off the résumé here a little bit,” Daniels said. “If he’s productive and we feel he fits our culture here in the clubhouse, we’ll give him an opportunity. If either of those ends don’t pan out, then kind of no harm, no foul.”
“I think it’s a guy who loves the game and just wants to continue to play,” New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You don’t ever want to feel like you took your uniform off sooner than you should’ve. So good for him.”