Dodgers come within an X-ray of disaster

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hanley Ramirez was not a happy man.

Since a Joe Kelly pitch collided with one of his ribs and rendered him a decoy in the playoffs last season, Ramirez has had one overarching goal: stay on the field and lead the Dodgers to the World Series. For about 15 minutes Wednesday night, it was all going up in flames.

A Ryan Vogelsong sinker didn't sink. It tailed violently in and up, slamming off Ramirez's left hand. Within seconds, the powerful shortstop grabbed his pine tar-smeared batting helmet and slammed it into the turf. There were 42,773 people at AT&T Park and nobody could take their eyes off the big man having a temper tantrum. Few of them knew the reason.

"Everyone knows what I went through last year," Ramirez said after the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants. "To get hit in the hand ... the hand is a spot where it's easy to get any damage. I was wondering."

Thanks to the wonders of in-stadium X-ray machines, he didn't have to wonder long. The X-rays proved negative, no further tests are planned and, the next time Ramirez can swing a bat without too much pain, he'll be back in the lineup. It probably won't be Thursday, but could be Friday or Saturday, maybe Sunday or Monday.

However long he's out, it appears it will be a survivable amount of games. From all angles Wednesday night, it was looking as if the Dodgers had sidestepped the one injury that could send their season spinning downward.

In case you haven't noticed, they've managed to buck up pretty well without the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw, who made one start for them in Australia before heading to the disabled list because of strained muscles in his upper back. The Dodgers are two games above .500 without Kershaw.

With Ramirez, they're one of the most dangerous teams in baseball. Without him, they've been feeble. Since the start of 2013, the Dodgers are 60-32 when Ramirez plays and 39-46 when he doesn't. Granted, his longest stay on the disabled list coincided with Zack Greinke's, but still ...

Even that doesn't communicate his importance properly. The Dodgers had better shortstop depth last season than they do this season. Had Ramirez gone down for a long while, the Dodgers would have been pondering the pros and cons of a Justin Turner vs. Dee Gordon vs. Carlos Triunfel shortstop situation. Yeah, that thin.

Ramirez actually argued fairly passionately with trainer Stan Conte to stay in the game, but Conte's a little more assertive than most trainers and there was no way the Dodgers were going to leave Ramirez in the game in the seventh inning.

"At that point, he's mad and he's going to want to try to stay in there and steal a base or something," manager Don Mattingly said. "We just can't do that."

Mattingly saw it. Everybody credited Yasiel Puig for turning around the team's fortunes last season, but Ramirez's production was even more crucial in that stretch. So, now, Mattingly can show up Thursday morning and harbor at least a glimmer of hope his best hitter can try to help the team avoid a three-game sweep here. But even if he learns it's going to be a week or more before Ramirez plays, he'll know it could have been a whole lot worse.