What the heck is Manny Ramirez doing in Albuquerque?
That's where his road back to the big leagues began.
In the first game of his 10-game Minor League assignment Saturday night, Ramirez struck out three times in four hitless at-bats as the Sacramento River Cats outlasted the Isotopes, 7-6.
Batting third as the River Cats' designated hitter, Ramirez kept the bat on his shoulder while striking out on five pitches in the first inning. He lined out on the first pitch he saw in the third, then whiffed on six and three pitches, respectively, in the fifth and seventh innings.
The A's soon-to-be DH -- and the owner of 555 career home runs -- left for a pinch-hitter in the ninth.
"When I retired, I was all over the place, you know, and a bunch of fans, they told me, 'We miss you. Why don't you come back? The game is not the same without you,'" Ramirez said before Saturday's game. "So my wife, she put it [in] my mind, we started working little by little. God gave me the opportunity to be here, and I'm here."
Ramirez is serving a 50-game suspension stemming from his second positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. The 12-time All-Star received a 100-game ban when the news broke last season, but his subsequent retirement amounted to time served when Oakland signed him to a one-year contract on Feb. 20. He is eligible to begin his 20th Major League season on May 30, his 40th birthday.
Saturday marked Ramirez's first Minor League game since Aug. 20, 2010, when he was a member of the Dodgers rehabbing with the Class A Advanced Inland Empire 66ers.
Ramirez also returned to Isotopes Park for the first time since June 24, 2009. The right-handed-hitting slugger preceded a three-game stint at Inland Empire with two games at Albuquerque, where he received a warm reception from the fans. That was not the case Saturday as he was greeted with boos.
"I don't worry about what people say, I worry about what God says," Ramirez said.
Ramirez declared himself in game shape and said he'd use his stint in the Pacific Coast League to get up to speed at the plate.
"I've been working out every day, so it's about getting the timing, facing pitches," Ramirez said. "This is a time that I have to go out there, take a lot of pitches, get my rhythm [back], feel good like I feel, and then move on."
The River Cats conclude their series in Albuquerque on Sunday. Ramirez, who had been taking his hacks in extended spring training in Phoenix, will head with the club to Round Rock for a four-game set before traveling back to Sacramento.
A's No. 7 prospect Derek Norris smacked a two-run homer in the second off Isotopes starter Will Savage. Norris, a catcher, has five longballs and a .312 batting average through 36 games.
Savage did not factor in the decision and remained 7-0. The veteran right-hander allowed five runs -- two earned -- on seven hits, exiting with one out in the sixth.
Counterpart A.J. Griffin, who was making his second Triple-A start of the season, gave up six runs -- including five in the third -- on 10 hits over five frames. He struck out five.
Sacramento's Michael Taylor broke a 6-6 tie with an RBI double in the ninth off reliever Shane Lindsay (0-1). Taylor and Norris each recorded three hits, with Norris finishing double shy of the cycle.