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LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez will begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment Saturday and could rejoin the team as early as Tuesday, several weeks earlier than anticipated, manager Don Mattingly said Friday.
After Ramirez had surgery March 22 to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, doctors predicted he would be out roughly eight weeks.
Ramirez will play at least three games at Class A Rancho Cucamonga, Mattingly said.
Speeding Ramirez's return has been a flexible splint that allows him to hit and make throws without further injuring his thumb. He will continue to play with the splint after he returns, Mattingly said. Dodgers shortstops have batted .176 with one home run in the 21 games Ramirez has missed.
The Dodgers entered Friday having scored just 67 runs, second-fewest in the major leagues ahead of the Miami Marlins.
Ramirez's return to shortstop could set back the Dodgers' infield defense. The player who has been getting the majority of time as a fill-in, Justin Sellers, is a premium defender but a .204 lifetime hitter.
Mattingly said Ramirez has made progress throwing the ball while wearing the splint.
"In Baltimore four or five days ago, it was rough. The ball was coming out funny," Mattingly said. "Then a couple days later, in New York, his throwing was great. It was a huge improvement."
The Dodgers are giving away a Ramirez "I See You" bobblehead figurine Tuesday, a date he has said he hopes to return by.