PEORIA, Ariz. – Erasmo Ramirez has one simple goal for this spring training — stay healthy.
Because if he can do that, his other goals for 2014 — making the starting rotation and finding command of his array of pitches — will likely follow as a result.
It sounds so easy. But it hasn’t been for the diminutive right-hander.
Just over a year ago, Ramirez had locked up a spot in the starting rotation after starting off the Cactus League with four solid starts.
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And then it all fell apart.
Ramirez felt tightness and pain in the back of his pitching arm. It didn’t go away.
The cause of the strain came from lifting weights. He was trying to build too much strength in his triceps while not maintaining flexibility.
“I was using too much weight,” he said. “I was trying to make it stronger, but at the same time I didn’t realize I have to be stronger and flexible.”
It was a huge blow to the Mariners, who needed Ramirez to establish himself as reliable contributor with few quality starting pitching options in camp.
“We were counting on him,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “We absolutely thought that as spring training was unfolding that he’d be one of the guys. But he had a setback.”
That setback cost him much of the first half of the season as he rehabbed the injury and had to restart his throwing program from the beginning.
Ramirez didn’t start another game until May 28 with AA Jackson and then moved to Tacoma after that first start.
“It was frustrating,” Ramirez said. “But I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.”
He was called up on July 11 and made 13 starts and one relief appearance, posting a 5-3 record with a 4.98 ERA. In 721
3 innings pitched, he struck out 57 batters, but walked 26. The walks were surprising since Ramirez issued just 12 walks in 59 innings pitched with Seattle in 2012.
“That’s not me,” he said. “Everybody who knows me, knows I’m aggressive and throw strikes. When you are throwing a lot of balls, you can’t make excuses, you have to come back and make adjustments.”
Ramirez believes in “pounding the zone” — a phrase he uses often. But the inconsistency left him pounding his fist in his glove in frustration.
“I just didn’t have the feel,” he said. “Some days it just didn’t feel right with my arm and my body going to home plate. You have to figure out what you are doing wrong and make an adjustment.”
Ramirez believes he’s done that now. He’s found a conditioning program that works for him. He’s also comfortable in his mechanics and his command. It started to come together during winter ball in Venezuela.
“I felt really good,” he said. “Winter ball helped me a lot to realize what to do.”
Ramirez made six starts, going 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA. He was outstanding in the first five starts, allowing two earned runs in 26 innings pitched, while striking out 16 batters and walking eight. His last start was forgettable, going just 21
3 innings and allowing seven runs on 10 hits. But Ramirez felt like he started to get closer to where he wants to be.
“I’m just trying to keep the same mechanics for every pitch,” he said.
After seeing Ramirez battle injury issues the past two seasons, the Mariners are being cautious in their optimism with him.
“We have to give him every opportunity to be one of our starters,” Zduriencik said. “He should come in here figuring he’s going to grab one of those spots.”
It should happen if he avoids injuries.
“We all know he’s got the stuff and competitiveness,” said pitching coach Rick Waits.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish