The raves about the Seattle Mariners young pitching this spring focused on Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, though it was 21-year-old Erasmo Ramirez who made the team.
First a reliever, then a starting pitcher, what got Ramirez sent to Class AAA Tacoma wasn’t major league hitting but a late-June elbow injury.
Hultzen, Paxton and Walker came a long way in 2012 and may challenge for rotation spots next spring.
Ramirez? He’s starting for the Mariners tonight in Toronto.
“I’m not nervous this time. I’m excited, but that’s different,” Ramirez said. “I want to be aggressive, throw all my pitches, let my defense work. My job is to make them swing the bats.”
At 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, it’s not hard to see why the Nicaraguan right-hander was overshadowed by his fellow prospects in camp. He’s built more like a bulldog than a whippet.
What he could do earlier than his peers, however, was throw strikes — quality strikes — in almost every situation. In 2010, for instance, Ramirez struck out 117 batters and walked 13.
And in 12 big-league appearances this year, four of those starts, he struck out 27 batters and walked seven, one intentionally.
“He has the ability to adjust out there on the mound when something isn’t working,” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “A lot of pitchers don’t do that. He was doing it at 20.”
Ramirez shrugged at that.
“When something isn’t right, you try to find out why. Maybe you’re not keeping your weight on the back side during delivery. Maybe you’re tired, and your arm is dropping,” he said.
“You’ve got to control yourself first, then the baseball.”
The youngest player on a major league roster when the 2012 season began, Ramirez has turned 22. When the elbow strain sent him to the Tacoma Rainiers on a rehabilitation assignment, he was 0-2 with a 3.69 earned run average in Class AAA.
Tonight, 15 Tacoma starts later, he’ll face the Blue Jays as the Mariners take another two-start look at him.
“When I came of the disabled list and was optioned to Tacoma, I just focused on pitching and hoped I’d get a September callup,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t lose my mind.
“You learn you’re going to have good days and bad, that you’re not going to feel the same way every time you pitch. That’s why you have to figure out what to do — because you’re still going out there.
“I’ve gone out there when my breaking ball wasn’t working, but I still threw it. I just made sure it was down, whether it broke much or not. I had to show it.”
The Mariners love Ramirez for his maturity, his tenacity, but what they want to see tonight is a bit more pragmatic.
“What we want to see from him is ground balls,” Willis said. “If he does that, you know he’s throwing his fastball on a downward plane, and that makes him an effective pitcher.”
Ramirez knows the two starts he’ll get this month amount to an early audition for 2013, with manager Eric Wedge, Willis and others in the organization having front-row seats.
Someone asked if he’d wondered what his first big-league win would feel like. Ramirez shook his head.
“I’ve never thought about that,” he said. “I want to pitch in the big leagues. I want to be in the rotation here next year. I’ve got the chance to give them the idea again, show them something.”
Facing the Blue Jays?
“You read about hitters in scouting reports, you watch video, listen to your catcher, but a lot of time the game gives you what you need to know,” Ramirez said. “You watch how a hitter responds to your pitches, you can tell what he’s looking for, what he’s hoping to get.
“My job is not to give that pitch to him.”