Hanley Ramirez turns back the clock

LOS ANGELES -- It took Hanley Ramirez about one second to answer the question, "When was the last time you felt this good at the plate?"

"Um, 2009, when I was the batting champion," Ramirez said.

One of the reasons Yasiel Puig has captured the imagination of baseball fans these past few weeks is the limitlessness of it all. We still don't know where his talent is pulling him and, by extension, us. It could go anywhere. The skill set is so profound, there really is no comparison too outlandish, at least until his career settles in.

Ramirez is seven years older than Puig, with seven more years in the major leagues. He has baggage and has had his share of disappointments, but in some ways, his upside is every bit as mysterious. In 2009, three years after his Rookie of the Year season, Ramirez batted .342. His OPS was .954.

Then, the mileage started catching up to him. He dealt with lower-back pain. The accumulated damage to his left shoulder became so bad, doctors had to cut him open after the 2010 season. He still has the scar.

He became a different guy, a diminished player with a bad reputation. The past two years, Ramirez batted .252 with a .742 OPS. Manager Don Mattingly kept asking him to cut down his swing, but Ramirez didn't budge. His results weren't adding up to the sum of his talents and a lot of people wondered if they ever again would.

Could it just be that the dazzling talent of those earlier years in Miami has returned? The signs certainly are hinting at it. Ramirez hit a ball so hard off the left-field foul pole in the sixth inning of the Dodgers' 6-5 win over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, it left the stadium in record time.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, it took the ball 2.97 seconds to leave, the quickest departure from any stadium this season. He hit two balls just as hard over the weekend in San Diego. During this eight-game hitting streak, Ramirez is batting .467 with two doubles and four home runs.

"Hanley's dangerous," Mattingly said. "He hits the ball hard, as hard as anybody."

Anybody, presumably, includes Puig.

In fact, Mattingly started feeling good about his lineup again -- for the first time since early April -- the day he decided he would no longer rest Ramirez every third or fourth game to ease his balky hamstring back into action. Mattingly decided he was going to play his "guys."

"Since that day, I felt like we've put a lineup together," Mattingly said.

If Ramirez really is all the way back, the next project is Matt Kemp. If he, too, reverts to previous form, the Dodgers will, for the first time since about Opening Day, feel as if this is only the beginning.