Rainiers’ grinning fullback could fill Seattle’s pitching gap

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comJune 3, 2013 

Between a 10-0 blowout in Minnesota and a 9-2 beatdown at Cheney Stadium, nothing much good happened Sunday for the Mariners organization.

The big club, with a lineup that included four players who began the season in Tacoma, was outhit by the Twins, 16-5. The Triple-A team did a lot of swinging and missing against Sacramento – 12 whiffs – and though the Rainiers managed to keep things suspenseful through eight innings, they allowed six runs during an ugly, interminable ninth inning.

And yet the day might’ve been redeemed by the wide smile Erasmo Ramirez showed as he was leaving the Tacoma clubhouse.

“I’m happy,” Ramirez said, “because I’ve been waiting and waiting to be able to pitch again.”

After a mid-June call-up to the Mariners last season, Ramirez made eight big-league starts. His record in 2012 was 1-3, but he threw pitches that avoided bats. Against the Oakland Athletics on June 25, for instance, the stocky right-hander, two months after turning 22, struck out 10.

Only one Seattle pitcher has ever produced a double-digit strikeout performance at a younger age. His name is Felix Hernandez.

Ramirez began spring training as a clear candidate for a job in a rotation needing capable starters behind Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and veteran free agent Joe Saunders. But an elbow sprain put that scenario on the shelf – and the Mariners’ presumptive No. 4 starter on the disabled list.

Ramirez remained in Arizona while rehabbing, then finally got clearance to start last week for Double-A Jackson. He showed enough in a five-inning effort that he was promoted to Tacoma, where he took the mound Sunday against a consistently persistent River Cats lineup.

While Ramirez gave up at least one hit in five of the six innings he worked, Sacramento didn’t score until the top of the sixth, when cleanup man Michael Choice led off with a no-doubt-about-it shot over the bullpen in left field. Two outs later, after a walk to Jeremy Barfield, Rainiers manager John Stearns replaced Ramirez with reliever Jonathan Arias.

Ramirez realized he was on a pitch-count limit of about 85. He ended up throwing 92, and though he was charged with the defeat, he was consoled by the bigger picture.

“I didn’t feel any pain at all,” he said. “That was the important thing.”

There’s a bulldog tenacity about Ramirez that appeals to Mariners management. The Nicaraguan is listed on the roster at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, but the height figure is generous. He’s built like a fullback.

“He’s got a short, compact delivery with a complex slider, a change-up and fastball command,” Stearns said. “His velocity isn’t quite where it will be, but it will improve. He’ll get better as he goes along.”

Stearns, a former scout, saw Ramirez two years ago in Double-A and determined him to be a future No. 3 or No. 4 starter on a major-league team. Stearns hasn’t wavered on that projection.

A few hours before Ramirez threw 92 pain-free pitches at Cheney Stadium, the Mariners’ Jeremy Bonderman was rocked by the Twins at Target Field. A victim of elbow and shoulder injuries over the past 21/2 seasons, Bonderman earned the spot start – his first since 2010 – because he’s a veteran who could be depended upon to take the mound without breaking into the kind of nervous cold sweat that precedes fainting.

Bonderman didn’t faint, but otherwise, he made no case that he belongs in the big leagues. A Twins offense that generally resembles a lineup fit for Triple-A Rochester hit three homers, three doubles and a triple off Bonderman before his day was done with two out in the fifth inning.

Ramirez will need a few more starts with the Rainiers before he returns to Seattle, but Sunday’s developments were pivotal:

There’s an opening in the Mariners’ rotation, and a bulldog fullback showed he had a healthy arm to fill it.

A 10-0 blowout to the Twins? A 9-2 beatdown by the River Cats? A brutal day of bad baseball was alleviated by Erasmo Ramirez’s smile.

He threw 92 pitches, and he felt no pain.


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