ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Manny Ramirez felt pretty good – despite all the boos and the three strikeouts.
The 12-time All-Star went 0 for 4 for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats on Saturday night as he began a 10-game minor league stint to prepare to be activated by the Oakland Athletics from his 50-game suspension for a second positive drug test.
"I'm ready to go," said Ramirez, who signed with the A's in February. "I haven't played. The last time I played was last year. I have to go out there, take a lot of pitches, you know, get my rhythm, feel good."
Ramirez stepped to the plate for the first time at Isotopes Park to loud boos from the Albuquerque fans, but was cheered as he strolled back to the dugout after being called out on strikes without his bat leaving his shoulder.
He hit a weak, broken-bat liner to second on the first pitch of his second at-bat, and worked the count full during his third at-bat before striking out swinging. He went down swinging on three pitches in his final at-bat.
Jeff Fiorentino walked as a pinch hitter for Ramirez in the ninth and scored the go-ahead run in Sacramento's 7-6 victory.
Ramirez, who has 555 career homers and 1,831 RBIs, retired last season rather than serve a 100-game suspension for failing a second drug test. But Commissioner Bud Selig cut the suspension in half after Ramirez sat out the balance of the season. He served a 50-game suspension in 2009 while with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, playing parts of three games in Albuquerque during his rehabilitation assignment.
He's eligible to return to the majors on May 30, his 40th birthday.
Despite the crowd's reaction, Ramirez said it was the fans that convinced him to return.
"When I retired, I was all over the place," he said. "And I went to the fans and they told, me, `We miss you. The game is not the same without you.' They can't wait for me to do what I do, playing the game."
He had been in extended spring training in Arizona before heading to Albuquerque.
"I was working out every day," Ramirez said. "It's about getting the time in and seeing the pitches. I got it now. It's just a matter of timing."
Now his goal is to return to the majors as quickly as possible and make an impact with the A's.
"I am going to go do what I do," he said. "When you're playing this game, anybody can be a leader, you know. But your actions are going to speak louder than your words. I just have to play hard and move on."