Lost amid a late bullpen collapse was Mariners starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez once again making his case for next spring.
Nearly two months after returning from a triceps injury, the Nicaraguan-born starter has settled into a comfortable late-season groove. Ramirez tossed six scoreless innings Sunday before his team ultimately lost 4-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Ramirez said afterward
his ability to throw more breaking balls with confidence — uninhibited by his previous injury — is helping him keep his team in every game he pitches.
“When you come back from an injury, you’re sometimes afraid to throw more breaking balls,’’ Ramirez said. “But when you continue throwing and throwing and can feel your arm getting stronger, you feel like you need to throw more breaking balls because this game isn’t only about fastballs.
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“Your arm gets stronger and your confidence gets better, too. You start throwing your four pitches for strikes and your confidence goes up. It helps you make more quality pitches.’’
Ramirez also mixed in a quality changeup to left-handed hitters, keeping the Rays off-balance. He carried a 1-0 lead, courtesy of an early Kendrys Morales homer off Rays starter Matt Moore, into the seventh inning.
But then, after reliever Charlie Furbush escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam in that frame, Yoervis Medina and Hector Noesi ran into all kinds of trouble in the final two innings.
Medina gave up three runs in the eighth on a tying James Loney double, then a two-run single by Sean Rodriguez. Noesi allowed the first five batters to reach base in the ninth, yielding another insurance run as the contending Rays avoided a three-game sweep in front of 18,645 at Safeco Field.
The only thing that saved Noesi from more damage was catcher Henry Blanco nabbing a would-be base stealer at second, then center fielder Abraham Almonte throwing out another runner at home trying to score on a single.
Moore scattered five hits and allowed just the Morales homer on the scoreboard over 61
3 innings. It was his first start since going on the 15-day disabled list July 31 with left elbow soreness.
Tampa Bay relief pitcher Jake McGee replaced Moore with one on and one out in the seventh and retired the final two hitters to qualify Moore for the win.
As for Ramirez, it was his first scoreless appearance of the 2013 season and also the only time in his career he’s tossed more than three innings in a start without giving up a run. He’d thrown 22
3 innings of scoreless ball June 30 last year before going down with a flexor bundle injury in his elbow.
Ramirez is again forcing his way into the rotation discussions for 2014, much as he did last year with a strong finish after a two-month absence due to his elbow woes.
The Mariners will be looking at a slew of young pitchers to slot in behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma next season. But occasionally forgotten amid talk of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and possibly Danny Hultzen is the fact Ramirez has more big-league experience.
Ramirez is starting to show more of that experience late this season with his ability to work more efficiently. He’s also trying to avoid throwing too many strikes right down the middle as he has in the past.
Though he wound up walking four batters Sunday, much of it was a byproduct of trying to throw quality strikes on the edges of the plate. And even when he walked batters, he kept his pitch count down by making quality pitches on the edge of the plate and having the Rays swing into some quick outs.
“Even though I walked four guys … I made the pitches I needed to in order to induce contact,’’ he said. “I just thought about throwing the ball so that hitters could make contact without having the ball drift over home plate. I just tried to hit the corners.’’
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said Ramirez’s confidence in recent outings has started to show. He has a 2.27 earned-run average in his past five starts, averaging more than six innings per outing.
For Wedge, the biggest thing is Ramirez’s confidence at throwing any pitch in any count and situation.
“I think the last three (starts) in particular, you’ve seen a definitive difference,’’ Wedge said. “With his confidence, with his mound presence and his consistency. He still has moments in time where he tries to do too much … but I like the way he reels himself back in.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @gbakermariners.