Cactus League Game 1, Holy Crap, Really? A (sort of) Game?
Man, time flies when the Seahawks are marching towards football immortality. Hey, baseball games are back to being a nearly-daily thing we can talk about, analyze, and read too much into. I’ll be honest: I’ve missed it. The M’s have been bad, more or less, for a decade, and there’s still a glimmer of excitement about a scrimmage in Arizona. In February.
Erasmo Ramirez starts today, and he starts with renewed confidence. Confidence borne of a revelation he had in Venezuela this off-season – you don’t have to throw 95, the voice told him, just throw strikes and take it easy. For those of you who’ve followed Erasmo’s somewhat unlikely journey to the fringes of the bigs, this ‘revelation’ is somewhat ironic: for years, he was the undersized kid throwing in the 80s who just never walked anyone. By the time he hit AAA (I saw his first AAA start and was completely blown away by the velocity he’d added), that wasn’t the case. He had legitimate weapons, but he sacrificed a modicum of consistency for them.
I’m not sure if Erasmo’s injury problems in 2012 and 2013 were the result of overthrowing, mechanical issues or rotten luck, but I’d submit that staying healthy is job 1 for Erasmo this year. “Undersized righty” is a headwind Ramirez faces and has faced for years. “Injury-prone, undersized righty,” is the kind of thing that gets you sent to the pen or, worse, to the Astros.
All of that said, no one should forget that Ramirez was a very successful MLB starter down the stretch in 2012. His change-up was remarkable, and his fastball could hit
95 in a pinch; this wasn’t a guy throwing 87 and praying for mis-hits. Whether due to injury or supremely bad advice, Ramirez went away from his change in favor of fastballs and a slider last year, and the results weren’t pretty. I and others talked about the lack of separation in movement between his FB and CH, but his problems were deeper than vertical movement: Erasmo never had a feel for his pitches, and his Zone% went down, and thus walks and HRs went up.
He was at his worst with no one on. Like Iwakuma, he may be guilty of over-challenging when the stakes are low. And like Iwakuma, his success with men on gives some hope that real improvement is a relatively small change away. This is an awfully long intro for a Cactus League game in which Erasmo will pitch two innings. But Ramirez is key to the M’s pitching depth in 2014 because Ramirez IS the Mariners’ pitching depth in 2014.
Brandon Maurer was quite bad in 2013, and had his back ‘seize up’ in warm-ups two days ago. Scott Baker may need to throw significant innings this year – something he hasn’t done since before his “oops, I guess you need Tommy John surgery” er, surgery in early 2012. Danny Hultzen won’t pitch in 2014. If Baker and Erasmo can’t go, then ( today’s other scheduled pitcher) Blake Beavan stands between the M’s and the void. But Beavan looks suspiciously like the void draped in an extra-large M’s jersey, so…..*
*. Larry Stone had a funny column about not heeding the siren’s song of Cactus League optimism – about Munenori Kawasaki’s bat , Maurer’s poise, or the M’s dominant offense. I laugh because I was sort of taken in by Beavan’s mechanical tweaks last year.