The Rockies moved to 2-0 on the Cactus League season by beating the White Sox 4-3 at Hi Corbett Field this afternoon. Since the game was broadcast on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain, I was able to watch the entire game (Hi, my name is Dan L., and I’m addicted to baseball) and I’ll have some impressions later on in this post. For now, however, the machine that is the Meet the ’07 Rox series continues rolling with this look at a bullpen mainstay.
#61 RAMON RAMIREZ, RHP
Ramon by the numbers: 61 G, 4-3, 3.46 ERA, 67.2 IP, .230 OAVG, 27/61 BB/K
Ramon on the mound: After one appearance at AAA, Ramirez was called up in early April to replace Mike DeJean in the Rockies bullpen and promptly went the entire opening month without allowing an earned run. For much of the first half of the season, Ramon’s ERA led with a 0 until he had a spate of rough appearances in June and July. It’s possible he hit a rookie wall, and it’s possible the league developed enough of a book on him to start having better at-bats against the rookie, but Ramirez’s good outings and bad outings were easily separable by one attribute: location. When he kept his fastball-slider arsenal down in the zone, he was awfully tough to hit. When he made mistakes up in the zone, he got torched. Despite the downward movement on his pitches, Ramirez was actually a fly-ball pitcher last year (45% of batted balls against were fly balls), though only 6% of his outfield fly-balls allowed left the yard (he gave up just five homers all year. Since he’s still fairly new to pitching – his career as a pitcher started in the Yankees chain in 2003, he was an outfielder for Japan’s Chunichi Dragons before that – he’s still picking up some of the mental aspects and nuances of the job. Considering that, his rookie season was a smashing success.
Ramon’s stuff: As mentioned above, Ramirez comes with a fastball and a slider, both of which are very effective when they’re down in the zone. He stays in the low 90s with his fastball, and his slider is a hard 12-6 breaker that comes in the mid-to-high 80s. When he misses out of the zone, he tends to miss low. If his pitches are up in the zone, they get ripped.
A look ahead to 2007: Anybody discussing a list of locks for the 2007 Rockies bullpen that doesn’t include Ramon Ramirez in the conversation should instantly lose any and all credibility. He was the second most valuable reliever on the roster last year behind Brian Fuentes and has a chance to be a lights-out setup man in the seventh or eighth innings. Clint Hurdle didn’t hesitate to use Ramirez in multi-inning roles, which is notable because he hasn’t shown that tendency with any of his other relievers that would be considered late-inning guys. Ramirez should continue to grow as a pitcher in his second full year in the bigs. His success is based on his command and his location – if he can cut back on the walks (3.59 BB/9 last year) and stay down in the zone, he’ll be one of the top setup men in the National League. There’s no reason to think he won’t have another solid year in the Rockies pen. Oh, and by the way, once he does have a good year in 2007, the Rockies will officially have ‘won’ the Shawn Chacon trade.
Ramirez worked the eighth inning in today’s Spring Training win for the Rox. His control was a bit spotty but he managed to work a scoreless frame. The one mistake he made up in the zone was, true to form, punished, by Wiki Gonzalez for a single up the middle.
Some thoughts on the other arms the Rox deployed this afternoon in Tuscon:
JEFF FRANCIS: Worked in all three of his pitches, kept the ball on the ground, got ahead of hitters, and generally looked his usual unflappable self in the first two innings of the game. Like Aaron Cook yesterday, Francis got through his two frames without giving up a run. The one hit he gave up was an infield single up the middle that Jamey Carroll got to, but couldn’t make the throw.
UBALDO JIMENEZ: U-ball worked the third and fourth innings. He came out wild, walking the first hitter he faced, and was all over the place in his first inning of work, though he was able to get through the inning without a run. In the fourth, his command was much better and he had a much easier time of things. It was encouraging to see that he regained his command without losing anything on his fastball, which was recorded between 91 and 96 on the FSN radar gun (they appeared to have it fixed by this time, at least – in the first inning they clocked Jeff Francis at 101, 101, and 102 on consecutive pitches). I personally think his changeup is his best pitch and that how well he establishes his changeup determines how well he’s able to get into a rhythm. He wasn’t locating his curve very well and I only saw one or two sliders, but there’s clearly a great deal of movement on those pitches as well. He did fan Joe Crede, the only legit bat in Ozzie Guillen’s split-squad lineup, on a high heater that registered 94 on the gun.
OSCAR RIVERA: I was very impressed with the Mexican Leaguer in his two innings of work. The southpaw sat in the mid to high 80s with his fastball and frequently mixed in his curve and change, which came in at the mid 70s. He was locating both off-speed pitches for strikes and was getting hitters to chase them in the dirt. Even the two-run homer he surrendered to Crede was a good curve that Crede was able to muscle out of the ballpark off of his front foot. Rivera fanned three in his two frames and served notice that he’ll be a guy to watch all spring. I really think he’s got a shot to stick in relief if nowhere else, but the Rox would be foolish not to ante up the $1.3 million to Yucatan of the Mexican League to hang on to the 24 year-old’s rights.
JEREMY AFFELDT: Affeldt clearly didn’t have much of a feel for either of his two pitches, and the result was a wild outing in which he walked in a run. His curve, a KO pitch if there ever was one, was ineffective and he couldn’t locate with anything. The Rox are counting on Affeldt to be a lefty presence in their bullpen this year, but he looked rusty today. That’s why the spring schedule is 30 games long, folks.
MANNY CORPAS: Corpas came on after the Rox took a 4-3 lead on an RBI single by Jeff Salazar in the bottom of the 8th. Manny’s no stranger to the closer role, having locked up 19 saves with AA Tulsa last year. He walked the leadoff man, Chris Getz, in the 9th on a series of close pitches (read: he wasn’t missing by much) but Alvin Colina threw him out stealing. He then walked the next hitter, Kenny Kelly, on pitches that weren’t quite as close, and Kelly promptly swiped second and third. Then, things got weird. Corpas threw a good sinker down in the zone that Danny Lucy popped up to short center. Jonathan Herrera, playing short, called for the ball but had trouble making the catch, falling to his knees to glove the ball. Kelly, who’s a burner, tried to tag up, but Herrera’s one-hopper to the plate was in plenty of time and the game was over. Corpas wasn’t sharp in getting the job done, but his best pitch was his last one and his stuff had plenty of movement. If he’s not in the Opening Day pen and some dinosaur like Danny Graves, Matt Herges, or Dave Veres is, there’s going to be at least one pissed-off Rockies fan.