SEATTLE — As the season plods to the finish, Erasmo Ramirez is pitching like the starter the Seattle Mariners expected him to be at the beginning of the season.
The 23-year-old right-hander tossed six scoreless innings Sunday, giving up four hits while striking out five and walking four. But the bullpen couldn’t follow through in Seattle’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I thought Erasmo was good,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I just love his aggressiveness early in the game, and he’s able to hang on to it and sustain it. He used all of his pitches. His arm action. He was strong against a very good team.”
Over his past five starts, Ramirez has allowed 10 runs — eight earned — in 312/3 innings for a 2.27 earned-run average.
Wedge has noticed some positive changes in Ramirez (5-1, 4.57 ERA) in the past few outings.
“I think you’ve seen a definitive difference with his confidence, with his mound presence, with his consistency,” Wedge said. “He still has moments where he tried to do a little too much and the ball gets arm-side up a little bit, but that’s to be expected for a young starting pitcher. But I like the way he reels himself back in.”
Ramirez reeled himself in from the walks Sunday by pitching to contact.
“Every time I threw the ball, I was thinking, ‘Let the hitter make contact, but don’t throw it over the middle of the plate,’ ” he said. “Just try to hit the corners, and there were some good plays by my teammates.”
After a solid start to spring training, Ramirez was expected to be a part of the rotation, but triceps issues sidelined him for the first half of the season.
He returned to the big leagues July 11, and his starts improved each time.
“When you come back from the injury, you are sometimes afraid to throw more breaking balls,” Ramirez said. “But when you continue throwing and throwing, and feel your arm getting stronger, you start feeling like you can throw more breaking balls because you can’t go all fastballs. Your arm is getting strong, and your confidence is getting better, too.”
That confidence isn’t just in his breaking ball. Ramirez’s cut fastball and change-up also have improved.
“What we hoped to see up here is what we saw in the minor league, and it’s starting to come around now, and he’s able to throw any pitch at any time with a great deal of confidence and not be too fine,” Wedge said.
Second baseman Nick Franklin was out of the lineup a day after he was kneed in the back of the head by first baseman Justin Smoak while chasing down a pop fly.
“Oh, yeah, there’s a good-sized knot back there,” Franklin said.
“He deserved it,” Smoak joked from his locker.
Saturday’s sixth-inning collision was scary, and Franklin looked as if he might have been knocked out. But he said he was conscious the whole time.
“It just took a little while to get my senses,” he said. “Everything was kind of tingling.”
Franklin stayed in the game and came up with a big RBI double in the bottom of the inning. But Wedge decided to give him Sunday off.
“He’s fine,” Wedge said. “I appreciated the fact he stayed in the ballgame and helped us win. Obviously, the trainers took a good look at him and felt comfortable with it. If they didn’t, we would have taken him out. But the fact he stayed in there and contributed, that was impressive. That was good to see.”
The Mariners open a three-game series against the Houston Astros on Monday night. Right-hander Taijuan Walker (1-0, 3.60) will make his first career start at Safeco Field, but it will be his last start of this season because of his overall innings limit. The Astros will start right-hander Jarred Cosart (1-1, 2.13). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports, 1030-AM and 710-AM.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish