Manny Ramirez goes on disabled list and Dodgers’ offense goes missing

On his way from the clubhouse to the field at Nationals Park on Friday, Manager Joe Torre walked by the batting cages.

He turned his head to see Manny Ramirez hitting inside.

“I told him to pick up a book,” Torre later recalled with a laugh.

Ramirez had 15 days to recover from his strained right calf, which officially landed him on the disabled list hours before the Dodgers took the field for what turned out to be a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals. Why risk anything?

“Old habits die hard,” Torre said.

But old men fall easily.

The injury that will sideline the 37-year-old cleanup hitter originated in Pittsburgh on what was supposed to be a day off for him more than two weeks ago. Ramirez pinch-hit in the eighth inning of a 10-2 victory over the Pirates — the Dodgers were up, 8-1, when he was sent to the plate — and felt something in his calf as he ran down the first base line on a groundout to short.

The troublesome calf caused Ramirez to miss a couple of games against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium last week.

On Thursday, in the final game of a three-game series in Cincinnati, he strained the same muscle as he ran to first base on a sixth-inning single.

An MRI exam on Friday showed a strain on the inside part of the muscle.

Ramirez, who was batting a team-best .415, told trainer Stan Conte he thought he should go on the disabled list. Conte told Torre. Torre said that would be fine.

The Dodgers called up outfielder Xavier Paul from triple-A Albuquerque to replace Ramirez.

“I think he’s played long enough to understand certain things,” Torre said. “Manny felt that he needed some time with this thing. His thought process is probably that it’s been there — he’s on the table every day getting treatment but that hasn’t gone away.”

Torre said he was unsure if Ramirez would remain on the road with the Dodgers, who play two more games in Washington and three in New York before heading back to Los Angeles.

“We’ll get this thing fixed once and for all,” Torre said.

Ramirez didn’t say a word to reporters — or even make eye contact with them — when approached, as he maintained his two-month-long media blackout. His refusal to speak to reporters has become fodder for jokes in the Spanish-speaking precinct of the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

“They’re waiting for you,” Ronnie Belliard said.

“Talk to them,” Rafael Furcal said. “Christians don’t humiliate other people.”

Belliard smirked. Furcal laughed. Ramirez remained silent.

Whether the reason was Ramirez’s absence, the inevitable slowdown of an offense that started the day averaging 6.5 runs per game, or the sight of an unfamiliar pitcher on the mound, the Dodgers couldn’t hit on Friday.

This wasn’t the Dodgers team that was 29-21 last year while Ramirez served his 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy. They had only five hits, none after the sixth inning. Nationals starter Luis Atilano held them to one run in five innings to win in his major league debut.

“We just missed pitches to hit,” Matt Kemp said.

But Torre said he wasn’t concerned, pointing to what the Dodgers did in Ramirez’s absence last season.

“Last year was the acid test and they passed,” Torre said.