Ramirez, two other Cubs come off DL
Team's top hitter says he's 'not 100 percent' but can play
CHICAGO -- The Cubs returned to normal on Monday, activating Aramis Ramirez, Reed Johnson and Angel Guzman from the disabled list.
Ramirez, sidelined since May 8 because of a dislocated left shoulder, was in the Cubs' lineup Monday night, batting fifth against the Atlanta Braves. He's been out the longest and missed the most. The third baseman was hitting .364 with four homers and 16 RBIs when he was injured.
"I told him, 'Don't try to come in here and carry things -- just be yourself and do what you're capable of and we'll be happy with that,'" Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Johnson, who has shared time in the outfield, has been sidelined with lower back spasms. Guzman had a strained right triceps. To make room on the roster, outfielder Sam Fuld and right-handed pitcher Kevin Hart were optioned to Triple-A Iowa and pitcher David Patton was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to July 5, with a right groin strain. Patton apparently felt a twinge on Saturday. Demoting Fuld and Hart were tough decisions.
"I don't think anything was clear cut," Piniella said. "We've got some outfield protection now with [Jeff] Baker and that made the Sam Fuld situation a little easier. It's not easy sending out kids -- I don't enjoy it."
Ramirez said he got enough at-bats and took enough swings to be ready.
"It's OK," he said prior to Monday's game. "It's not 100 percent, but believe me, if I wasn't good enough to play, I wouldn't play."
Fielding ground balls won't be a problem, but swinging might.
"The worst thing will be swinging," Ramirez said. "The way I swing the bat, I finish with my left arm over my head. That's when it's tough sometimes."
And he can't really change his style.
"I can't do that -- that's the way I hit," Ramirez said. "That's the way I've hit my whole life. I can't change even if I want to or try to. I'm going to have to deal with it."
Johnson was actually healthy enough to return earlier than the 15-day term required, but felt the time off gave him time to strengthen his back. He was batting .268 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 43 games before he was injured. Johnson, who provides a lot of energy to the Cubs' lineup, was sharing outfield time. Ramirez's return will have a bigger impact.
"Nobody is trying to put that pressure on him," Johnson said of Ramirez returning as the team's savior. "Those guys need to help out as well. He's not going to hit big two-run or three-run home runs if nobody is on base. The key was to get guys rolling who weren't rolling before he came back."
It was tough for Ramirez to be on the sidelines and watch. When he was injured, the Cubs were 2 1/2 games back in the National League Central at 16-14. They were still 2 1/2 games back entering Monday's action, at 40-39 heading into the three-game series against the Braves.
"We're healthy now, we're playing better," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "I think some of our problems are behind us. Lou has always shown a great ability, not just since he's been here but in the past, to right the ship. I think you're starting to see that now, like you did in '07. We're hoping to play well this last week at home and come back well after the break."
The return of Ramirez means less playing time for Jake Fox, who filled in at third. Fox, who hit a two-run homer on Sunday, understands his role.
"He's a franchise player, that's his spot," said Fox, who could sub at third Wednesday as the Cubs ease Ramirez back into game action. "I'm just out here to do my job, whatever the job title that is. When he was gone, my job was to play third base and hit. Now that he's back, it's changed a little bit."
Can the Cubs keep Ramirez healthy?
"When I had [Ken Griffey Jr.] in Seattle, I always used to tell him, 'Look, just be careful of the wall,'" Piniella said. "He always played with that reckless abandon that made him great and caused him a few injuries, too. I think Ramirez will be a little more conservative in that regard. I talked to the trainer about maybe playing him closer to the line or off the line. Either way, the problem can reoccur. We'll just play him normal and hopefully he won't have to dive."
Ramirez is no longer a spectator, but a player again.
"You want to be out there to help your team, especially when they're not scoring runs," he said. "Right now, they're swinging the bats well. We lost some games we should've won when we had good pitching, but we just didn't score any runs."
The Cubs hope that will change with their best clutch hitter back.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.