Warily, they tested Manny Ramirez.You have to cut your hair, the Texas Rangers told him. We have rules.And the next day Manny cut his hair.You have to work hard, they told him. You have to show up on time.And the next day there was Manny arriving early to his own scheduled press conference, anxious to get the questions started so that he could get back to work.Admittedly, the Omaha Storm Chasers and Oklahoma City RedHawks are not the Oakland A’s and Boston Red Sox. Ramirez was 41 when the Rangers signed him to a minor league contract July 3, and if nothing else he is two weeks older.His clock is ticking. So, it seems, is the clock on the 2013 Rangers. They are in the playoff hunt, but they need a right-handed bat. More than that, they could use another slugger, another offensive force, in the middle of the lineup. Those kinds of hitters, though, aren’t being given away. Outfielder Alex Rios of the White Sox has $20 million remaining on his contract. Young right fielder Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, if he even is made available, would likely cost the Rangers their three (or more) best prospects.Manny Ramirez, however, is already in the Rangers’ company computer. After eight games with the Round Rock Express, designated hitter Ramirez is batting .300 with three homers and has, for all its early worth, a .964 on-base plus slugging percentage.The bat speed appears to be there. The work ethic that the Rangers hoped to see is there. The conditioning is there. He has brought no entourage with him to Round Rock. Only his Bible (which he has on his iPad), his frequently professed love for his family, and his gratitude that the Rangers have given him an opportunity. When I saw him in his Triple A season debut 10 days ago, Ramirez looked like a guy who hadn’t faced live pitching — even Taiwanese live pitching — in two weeks. But eyewitnesses in Round Rock say that his swing, always purposeful and direct, has improved with each game. Manny knows what he’s doing up at the plate.In 12 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, Ramirez has six hits and three home runs. Alas, against righties, he’s 3 for 18, all singles. It’s a fleetingly small sample, without question. But his production against lefties certainly should make the Rangers curious. Of the Rangers’ 95 games this season, switch-hitting DH Lance Berkman has started only 65. The 37-year-old veteran has been a positive addition to the clubhouse, but the club has to be concerned about Berkman’s health and contributions going forward. Prized prospect Mike Olt, now Ramirez’s teammate in Round Rock, has shown flashes of what the Rangers hope he can be, but reportedly he hasn’t looked like a player who’s ready to step into an American League contender’s lineup. All evidence suggests that the Manny Makeover is genuine, at least from a personal standpoint. Unless he’s fooling everyone, himself included, Manny likely could make a comfortable transition into the Rangers’ clubhouse, where his Dominican countryman, Adrian Beltre, would make sure he follows the rules. In 19 major league seasons, Ramirez has a .411 on-base percentage and a .996 career OPS. For the young hitters on the Texas roster, there has to be something to learn, just in watching him. Another week or so of Manny swinging against Triple A pitching, and the Rangers should know. Their options, after all, are far from plentiful. They’re contenders. They need a right-handed bat. They need another home run hitter in the middle of their lineup. They may already have him. And he just got another haircut.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton