Erasmo Ramirez is nobody's idea of a stopper. When the Rays have lost the past six games and need a pitcher to step up and put things right, he's not the one we want standing at the front of the line (that's Chris Archer, who tried his darnedest the other day with eight ridiculously dominant shutout innings but had his effort undercut by the offense and the bullpen).
The calendar said it was Erasmo's turn, though, and the calendar doesn't lie. Good thing, too. Coming off of his worst game (a five-walk affair) since the awful opening stretch to the season, Erasmo Ramirez turned in his best game of the season.
Seven innings. Only 84 pitches. No runs. Three hits. One walk. Seven strikeouts. Nine ground balls (six other balls in play).
Let's focus on the fourth inning, where Ramirez struck out the side.
First up was Jimmy Paredes, a lefty.
- Pitch one is a changeup over the plate but towards the outside. Paredes tried to bunt but sent it foul.
- Pitch two was a fastball that missed badly.
- Pitch three was fastball, perfectly placed on the bottom-outside corner, and fouled with a late swing.
- Perhaps reading the lateness of Paredes's swing, Rene Rivera and Ramirez climbed the ladder on him, bringing the fastball up above the zone, getting Paredes to swing, and blowing it by him for the strikeout.
Next up was Chris Davis, another lefty.
- Like he did against Paredes, Erasmo started Chris Davis off with a changeup in the zone. This looks like a dangerous pitch, as it's elevated and over the heart of the plate, but Ramirez's changeup has very good downward movement. This was the equivalent of how many pitchers like to drop a slow curve into the upper portion of the zone for strike one. Honestly, it looked like a high fastball well-above Davis's hands right up to the point where it wasn't, and I totally understood him taking it for strike one.
- Now Davis had seen the changeup, so Erasmo had to throw it in his best location if he was going to double up. Which he did, dotting the corner. Davis swung, but this pitch doesn't get hit very often. Foul ball.
- They tried to go for the strikeout with a high fastball after they had lowered his eye level, but Davis did not bite.
- Okay, this was not a very good pitch. The previous ball was good, but this was a meatball (I think Rivera wanted it on the outside). In an alternate universe, Chris Davis hit this pitch 520 feet. In this universe he swung through it, walked to the dugout, and sat down.
Finally, Delmon Young, a righty.
- This at bat is the reason I chose to highlight the entire fourth inning. In the first two, we saw Ramirez work his changeups and his fastballs up, down, and in the zone. That's something the Rays are very good at. That's something they've got Erasmo Ramirez to emphasize, and it's worked out well for him. That sequence can get him through four or five innings. It probably cannot get him through seven. Ramirez's slider isn't very good, but when he's established a pattern that doesn't include the slider, it doesn't need to be. Pitch one is a slider at the bottom of the zone. Whiff.
- Pitch two is another slider, further away from the zone. Delmon Young sees the invitation to expand and does not accept it.
- "Okay," says Erasmo. "I'll bring that slider back to the zone for you," says Erasmo. "Oops, I lied," says Erasmo. "Whiff," says Delmon.
- By this point, Ramirez and Rivera have been able to firmly establish a pitch that is not a changeup in the mind of the batter, all without throwing a single fastball (Delmon Young is a good fastball hitter, so it makes sense to avoid that). When Ramirez finally went back to the changeup, it was fresh, Delmon thought it was a fastball, and swung way before and above it.
Overall, Erasmo Ramirez threw only five sliders, but three of them went for whiffs. He threw only seven curves for only one whiff, but for four strikes from the pitch overall. He was mostly fastball-changeup, like always, and that combination was about as good as we've seen it be, but he had the rest of his repertoire working, too.
This is the Erasmo Ramirez that the Rays organization scouted and identified as a desirable project, and boy was it good to see him.
Brandon Gomes and Brad Boxberger finished off the game without incident.
The second pitch of the game was a 90 mph fastball down the middle of the plate at the knees, and Brandon Guyer jumped it, easily lining into the left-field corner for a double. Joey Butler, everybody's favorite number-two hitter did what the "traditional two-hitter" is supposed to do—he made contact (kind of soft, crappy contact) and bounced a grounder to shortstop. J.J. Hardy is a good fielder, and a confident one. He tried to cut down the lead runner, but the ball was hit softly enough , and Guyer was fast enough to beat the throw by a hair, putting runners at the corners. Evan Longoria hit the ball hard and to the warning track in left-center, allowing Guyer to tag up easily.
Steven Souza Jr., no longer batting second, lead off the second inning. He took ball one outside. He took ball two low. Ball three was a fastball in the outer third of the zone. This is one of the types of pitches he's struggled with this season. It's a sure called strike if he takes it, but way more often than he should, he's just watched it in. People around these parts have been screaming to look for that pitch and then shoot it the other way. And he did. He shot it the other way and over the right-field wall.
It was his first career home run to the opposite field. 2-0 Rays
With two outs in the third inning, Wei-Yin Chen tried to drop in a backdoor curve to Butler. The swing didn't look like much. Off the bat, I expected it to fall short of the warning track, but it just sort of kept carrying the other way, and it too cleared the right-field wall.
For a man who really wasn't on anybody's radar before the season started, Joey Butler looks like a legitimate major-league hitter. 3-0 Rays
Some other notes:
- Makeshift first baseman Jake Elmore made a pretty excellent scoop on a throw in the dirt and to his right for the third out of the first inning.
- In the fifth inning, though, Elmore pulled off a grounder up the right side that he maybe thought the second baseman had covered, but was clearly his to field.
- Elmore made another fine fielding play on a hard ground ball up the line in the ninth. There are hiccups with a new position, but good job so far.
- Joey Butler erased that fifth-inning runner, though, with a frozen rope to the plate from left field (beautiful catch and tag by Rivera). Butler's going to give up some hits to left field that Desmond Jennings (RIP) would have prevented. But this was a quality defensive play Butler made that I doubt DJ's arm could have equaled.
- Joey Butler, baseball phenom though he may be, still does not give an engaging postgame interview. I think he's improving though. This one was clearly better than his earlier work.
- Tim Beckham appeared to hurt his right hamstring while running out a grounder in the fifth inning. I'm sure there will be more news soon, but 60-day DL is always a safe assumption with these Rays. (Update: Right now the Rays are calling it a right-hamstring cramp and Beckham is day to day, according to Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times.)
- If the Yankees lose, the Rays will be back in a tie for first place in the AL East.
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