Confident Ramirez starts his campaign for place in rotation

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comFebruary 25, 2013 

PEORIA, Ariz. — Sometimes it’s easy to lose Erasmo Ramirez in the land of giants that is Seattle’s spring training clubhouse.

While nearly all of the other pitchers are least 6-foot-2, Ramirez stands about 5-10 (maybe shorter) and with a constant smile on his face, the cherub-faced right-hander tends to look more bat boy than big-leaguer.

But make no mistake, Ramirez proved to the Mariners last season that he belongs in the big leagues. More importantly, he proved to himself that he belongs in this world of large men.

“Having that experience, I just know that the big leagues are not impossible to get to and that it’s not impossible to pitch up there,” he said. “Sometimes you think too much about names and you see those big guys and you believe they are going to crush the ball every time you throw it, but that’s not true. You to have to be sure to be confident and throw the ball with conviction – don’t think too much.”

And with that confidence, he plans to grab a spot in the Seattle starting rotation for the 2013 season. It’s what the Mariners expect from him.

“His arsenal of pitches is why we feel strong about him as a starter,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We know he can pitch out of the bullpen if we needed (him) to, but we look at him as a starter, just because of the way he can go out and compete against big-league hitters, hopefully six or seven innings.”

Ramirez’s performances late last season after he joined the starting rotation have inspired confidence on the part of Wedge and Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik.

Ramirez made eight starts and went 1-3 with a 3.64 earned-run average. The numbers aren’t eye-popping but a few key performances stood out.

Ramirez pitched eight innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out 10 against the eventual American League West champion Oakland A’s on June 25.

A strained flexor tendon in his elbow shut Ramirez down about a week later, keeping him out until September. In his first start back, he pitched seven innings, allowed two runs on six hits and struck out six while walking one against Toronto. In his next start, against playoff team Baltimore, Ramirez pitched eight innings, allowing two runs on four hits and struck out nine in a no-decision.

Despite the meager statistics, Ramirez became a celebrity in his native Nicaragua. He was the 12th player from his home country to appear in the big leagues.

“More interviews for being number 12,” he said of the attention. “People came to me more. I was the first guy from where I lived to get to the major leagues. It was different.”

The greatest Nicaraguan baseball player is pitcher Dennis Martinez, who had a 245-193 record in 23 big-league seasons.

Amazing numbers to be sure, while Ramirez is still looking for his first full big-league season and his own spot in the rotation.

He took another step toward claiming that spot Sunday, pitching a scoreless inning in his first start of the spring against San Diego. He threw 15 pitches, 10 for strikes, and allowed one hit – to Chase Headley (.286, 31 homers, 115 RBI last season).

“I feel pretty good,” Ramirez said. “For me, it was a good inning and a good start for spring training.”

He even retired his fellow countryman and friend, infielder Everth Cabrera, on a popup.

“It’s kind of different,” Ramirez said about pitching against Cabrera. “We are both fighting for spots. I’m not going to throw it right down the middle. You have to get your own base hits. You have to prove it.”

There is an ease to Ramirez that was missing last spring. Sure, his ever-present smile was there in 2012, but it was a nervous smile.

It was his first big league spring training and he was a little unsure of himself, his surroundings and what he needed to do. Now Ramirez’s constant grin is one of experience and confidence.

“I’m more prepared,” he said. “I tell myself, ‘Don’t be in a hurry, just relax. Don’t try to do more than you can do.’ That was killing me last year. Now, it’s know your body, know what you got, don’t try to be the star in the game and everything will be good after that.”

Wedge can see it.

“With Erasmo and a lot of these guys, this is their second big league camp,” he said. “I think you see more confidence in them, in how they compete and how they go about their day.”

That’s all Ramirez can do to earn a starting rotation spot. He knows that now. He didn’t know it last year.

“I’m always working,” he said. “I don’t say anything about if I’m going to be in the rotation or in Triple-A. It’s up to the manager. I’m just going to do the work and they are going to let me know.

“I’m just worrying about throwing the ball good.”

Spring game recap


The facts: On a frigid day with temperatures in the low 50s and the wind blowing more than 25 mph making it feel colder, the Mariners remained red hot with the bats, scoring eight runs for the second consecutive day. Seattle banged around former Mariners starter Freddy Garcia (1999-2004) for five runs on five hits in the first inning and never looked back. Garcia gave up five consecutive hits to start the inning, including a three-run homer to Raul Ibañez.

Play of the game: With runners on first and second, Ibañez sat on an 0-1 sinker from his old friend and teammate Garcia and crushed it deep into right field.

“I thought he might throw something else,” Ibañez said. “He has (a) great forkball/split thing, and I thought he might throw it there.”

Getting hits off Garcia isn’t something unfamiliar to Ibañez. In 38 career regular-season plate appearances against Garcia, Ibañez is hitting .559 (19-for-34) with five doubles, a triple, a homer and 10 RBI.

“It was a long time ago,” said Ibañez, who was Garcia’s teammate in Seattle (1999-2000) and more recently with the New York Yankees (2012). “I haven’t faced him in a while. I got lucky a few times off of him.”

Who’s hot: Seattle hitters continue to be hot. The Mariners banged out eight runs on 16 hits with seven doubles and a homer. That was after Seattle scored eight runs on 10 hits on Saturday.

Who’s not: San Diego starting pitching. Garcia pitched one inning and allowed four earned runs on five hits with 34 pitches. Meanwhile top pitching prospect Casey Kelly, a contender for a spot in the starting rotation, pitched the fourth but didn’t get out of the fifth inning. He faced 12 hitters and gave up three runs on seven hits with a walk and two strikeouts.

Quotable: “The idea is to build consistency. But I definitely feel better this spring than I have the last couple springs at the plate.” – Ibañez.

Extra innings: Mariners manager Eric Wedge said that he expects infielders Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley to start today’s game. Both players are recovering from offseason surgery and were held out of the first three spring games as a precaution. … Catcher Mike Zunino showed some impressive speed, scoring from first on a double from Nick Franklin in the fifth inning.

On tap: After three games, the Mariners will finally face someone other than the Padres. They will host their American League West-rival Los Angeles Angels at Peoria Stadium. Right-hander Jeremy Bonderman will start for Seattle. This is Bonderman’s first appearance of the spring. Injuries have kept the Kennewick native out of baseball for the past two seasons. He last pitched for Detroit in 2010. Touted pitching prospect Brandon Maurer is also scheduled to pitch. First pitch is set for 12:05 p.m. The game will not be broadcast on local radio.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 @RyanDivish

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