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06/27/08 7:59 PM ET

Manny in left field for Houston opener

Sox slugger's right hamstring feeling well enough to play field

HOUSTON -- Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez was openly joking on Friday afternoon about the fact that he will return to designated hitter as soon as the team plays the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night. But the fact Ramirez is healthy enough to play left field this weekend, when Boston is playing under National League rules, means that he won't have to be a designated sitter.

Ramirez, who has been dealing with right hamstring woes for roughly a month, returned to left field for the first time since June 17. It was just the fourth start in left for Ramirez during the month of June, all of which have come at National League parks.

The injury of Red Sox DH David Ortiz has allowed Ramirez to slide seamlessly into the DH role.

But Ramirez is apparently starting to feel some improvement.

"He said he feels really good," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "That's one of the things we checked with, just to make sure, because part of my thing to Manny was, 'OK, if you're not, we'll wait until tomorrow.' We have Coco [Crisp]. We could have played [Jacoby] Ellsbury."

When Coco Crisp starts his five-game suspension on Saturday, it will become crucial for Ramirez to be able to play left field. At that point, the Red Sox will only have one reserve outfielder in Brandon Moss.

Ramirez is hitting .291 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs entering Friday.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.