ANAHEIM, Calif. — When the Seattle Mariners reacquired Erasmo Ramirez from Tampa Bay in a July 28 trade, it was an act of desperation. Their rotation was in tatters and Ramirez, even though then pitching in middle relief, represented an upgrade.
“We didn’t know quite what we were getting,” manager Scott Servais now admits. “You don’t know until you actually see the guy and learn whether he can work through (a lineup three times).”
Ramirez responded by providing Servais and the Mariners with an eyeful and now looms as a pivotal piece in the club’s future plans.
After taking two turns to build up his endurance, Ramirez closed out his season earlier this week with a run of seven quality starts in his final nine outings.
“I’m just happy to finish healthy,” he said, “and happy for the opportunity that Seattle gave to me. I wanted to give the team a chance to win. That was my plan every time. Sometimes, it didn’t work, but I glad that most of the time it worked.”
It worked often enough that Ramirez just might have freed himself from the swingman label that dogged him throughout much of his six-year career.
“Going forward,” Servais asked, “why wouldn’t you look at him as a guy to be in our starting rotation? I think he can carry the innings load over the course of a season. He certainly looks strong enough.”
Ramirez isn’t taking anything for granted.
“What I showed is they’ve got another option,” he said. “If they want me to be back in the rotation, at least I showed them I can be there. If they want me to go back to the pen, that’s something where I’ll have to do my part, too.”
This much, though, Ramirez, 27, will admit: He is a much different pitcher now than the kid who battled to gain consistency for three seasons with the Mariners before a March 31, 2015 trade sent him to the Rays for lefty Mike Montgomery.
“In Tampa,” he said, “they put in my mind that to attack was the most important thing. Whatever pitch you can throw in the strike zone at that moment, that’s the one you want to throw first.
“They helped me to learn to keep the ball down. Tampa is a little place. I learned to mix. When you go two times or three times against the same hitter, you have to mix.
“If you have four pitches, if you use them all in the same at-bat, it’s not good. You have to save one for the next at-bat and try to surprise them with something.”
The Mariners’ rotation is already shaping up for next season because of a series of in-season trades that, like the deal to acquire Ramirez, stemmed from a combination of immediate and long-term needs.
Mike Leake arrived from St. Louis with a contract that extends through 2020. Marco Gonzales, acquired from the Cardinals in a different deal, is out of options, which means he can’t be sent next season to minors without clearing waivers.
The Mariners are hopeful Felix Hernandez and James Paxton, their once and current aces, can stay healthy next season. Ariel Miranda pitched well through the opening months before fading badly over the season’s second half.
Club officials remain high on Andrew Moore, the organization’s second-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. Journeyman Andrew Albers pitched well enough after arriving from Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate to merit continuing attention.
The Mariners also plan to make a strong push for Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani and seem likely to pursue at least one other starter through a trade or free agency.
Ramirez will be somewhere in the mix. If it’s not in the rotation, then the Mariners figure to have a potent five-man unit.
“He’s more consistent, people say, from the last time he was here mechanically in what he’s doing,” Servais said. “He’s been able to make adjustments when his command isn’t quite there.
“I’m really happy that he’s kind of stepped forward as a guy who can be in our rotation moving forward.”