SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s difficult to imagine any situation — except injury — where Erasmo Ramirez isn’t in the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation when the 2013 season opens April 1 in Oakland.
The diminutive right-hander has simply been the Mariners’ best pitcher this spring, and that includes Felix Hernandez.
Ramirez finally allowed his first run of spring training on Saturday in Seattle’s 5-2 win over the Colorado Rockies. He even allowed another run. But the six innings Ramirez pitched were a solid example of why he should have one of the two open spots behind Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders.
Ramirez wasn’t clean – runners reached base in every inning – and yet he allowed just two runs.
This spring, Mariners manager Eric Wedge has watched young starters Hector Noesi, James Paxton and Taijaun Walker, and even veterans Saunders and Jon Garland succumb to a three- or four-run inning.
Not Ramirez. He allowed a run in the first and the sixth inning, and that was it. He gave up eight hits, struck out five, didn’t walk a batter and stranded seven runners on base.
“I felt like he got better as the day went on,” Wedge said. “(His pitches were) a little bit up early. They got to him a little bit, but he controlled damage and that’s something you want to see from a starting pitcher.”
Controlling damage isn’t something instinctual for Ramirez, it’s a learned skill. He works on it with every bullpen session. Some younger players might look at throwing practice as busy work to strengthen their arm, but Ramirez is very purposeful with every pitch. He visualizes hitters, counts, specific situations.
“I will tell myself it’s 1-2 and if I miss my spot I will tell myself, ‘OK, that was a double or a homer,’” Ramirez said. “I try to control myself.”
Ramirez wasn’t quite as sharp as he has been in previous outings this spring. Besides his fastball being up, he had trouble throwing his slider and fastball inside against left-handed hitters. They accounted for five of the eight hits surrendered, including three doubles.
“I was trying to go in and the ball just didn’t move,” he said. “My slider just stayed right in the middle. A couple of times I was lucky they didn’t hit it over the fence.”
Ramirez said he got a little too excited at times when he would get ahead in the count.
“I was missing the strike zone when I was ahead 0-2, 1-2 and they made me pay for that,” he said. “Sometimes I try (to) throw the ball harder — the breaking ball and fastball — and it doesn’t break as much.”
What was amusing to Ramirez was that once he got himself into trouble, he actually calmed down.
“I was like, ‘OK, you have to execute your pitches or somebody is going score a run right here,’” he said. “I just made sure I came back and tried to be myself and not try to do more than I can, just execute the pitches. I don’t know why I waited till then to do that.”
But he found a way to make it work. Pitching is about adjustments and Ramirez has shown the ability to make them despite his youth (22 years old) and inexperience (eight major league starts).
“He’s been pretty good with that,” Wedge said. “I’d like to see him come out a little bit better, but he’s in here competing. He’s thrown the ball well this spring.”
Has Ramirez thrown the ball well enough to deserve a spot in the rotation? Wedge isn’t hinting who’s leading the competition, but of the candidates, Ramirez and Brandon Maurer have looked most consistent, efficient and had the best numbers. Ramirez has thrown 12 innings and allowed two runs, while striking out 10 with one walk.
And while many players will never admit to getting caught up in the competition for a spot on the 25-man roster, Ramirez wasn’t afraid to say he thinks about it.
“Sometimes you try and look better than the other pitchers,” he said. “You want to show them that, ‘I’m ready and I really want the job.’”
But Ramirez knows Wedge, pitching coach Carl Willis and general manager Jack Zduriencik will make the final decision.
“I’m working hard to make their decision tougher,” Ramirez said.
Based on what Ramirez has showed, it seems pretty simple.
However, there are other factors. Wedge said that a few players have clauses in their contracts that compel the Mariners to make decisions before spring training ends on whether they will make the 25-man roster. Wedge wouldn’t specify, but reports are that Garland has one of those contract options.
Jeremy Bonderman said he hadn’t considered whether he would go to Triple A or ask for his release if he didn’t make the team.
Garland, who struggled on Friday against the Netherlands, has been healthy and, like Bonderman, also throwing well this spring. Wedge values their big league experience.
Working against Ramirez and Blake Beavan is the fact they both have Triple-A options remaining. The Mariners could decide to keep one, or both, of the veterans and send Beavan and/or Ramirez to Tacoma to start the season.
Ramirez started the 2012 season pitching out of the bullpen, but Wedge said that isn’t an option because the team views him only as a starter.
Beavan will start today against the Rangers, which could be pivotal for him. It’s one reason why Felix Hernandez didn’t start on what would’ve been his normal work day.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are still competing for spots in our rotation,” Wedge said. “We are getting deeper into the month of March, and those guys need to pitch in the ‘A’ games.”
SPRING TRAINING RECAP
MARINERS 5, ROCKIES 2 at Salt River Field at Talking Stick
The facts: The Mariners won their third consecutive game as Erasmo Ramirez pitched six innings, allowing two runs on eight hits with five strikeouts. Ramirez never had a 1-2-3 inning, but he allowed only one run in the first and one in the fifth, while doing a good job with damage control the rest of the way.
Play of the game: Jesus Montero broke the game open in the fifth inning, driving a fastball to right-center field for a double and driving in Michael Morse from first base. Montero had two hits in the game, both to right-center field. The Mariners have stressed often to Montero the importance of hitting to all fields. It’s been a slow process that he may be embracing.
Who was hot: Kendrys Morales continues to hit well for the Mariners. The big first baseman/DH went 2-for-3 with a solo homer to left field. He’s hitting .371 (13-for-35) this spring with three home runs. More importantly, he’s putting together good at-bats, and seeing plenty of pitches. “All you have to do is watch the guy take batting practice, every swing has a purpose,” manager Eric Wedge said. “There’s a thought process behind it and he takes it into the game.”
Who was not: Michael Saunders had a forgettable day. Facing a left-handed starter in Drew Pomeranz, who is very tough against left-handed hitters, Saunders went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Saunders has just one hit since returning from World Baseball Classic duty with Canada.
Quotable: “He’s worked hard. It’s a situation with Jesus where he has to be in every at-bat. He’s done a better job with that. We felt like he gave away too many at-bats last year. He’s very talented. But you are seeing a better focus this year. You are seeing more fight at home plate, less frustration. He’s still understanding the success and failure that go along with this game. And I think he’s handling it better.” — Wedge on Montero
Extra innings: Felix Hernandez will pitch in a minor league game today instead of in the Cactus League. Besides keeping the Rangers from seeing Hernandez this spring, Wedge said that with the competition for the starting rotation, he wants to see those players vying for spots pitch against big league competition. Wedge said he has Franklin Gutierrez penciled into the lineup for today’s game. Gutierrez hasn’t played since March 9 because of soreness in his legs.
On tap: The Mariners return to Peoria, Ariz., to host the Texas Rangers at 1:05 p.m. today. Right-hander Blake Beavan will start for Seattle, with Carter Capps, Kameron Loe and Stephen Pryor also scheduled to pitch. The Texas Rangers will start left-hander Michael Kirkman. The game will be broadcast live on Root Sports and 710-AM.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish email@example.com