Seattle Mariners Narrowing Candidates for Final Rotation Spot

brianhelberg
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The Seattle Mariners originally signed Erasmo Ramirez as an amateur free agent out of Nicaragua in 2007. Once considered one of the top young arms in the Mariners’ system, Ramirez has fallen on hard times the past two seasons. Ramirez made his debut with the M’s back in April of 2012 at the tender age of 21. Now 24, Ramirez is hoping to land the final spot in the Mariners’ starting rotation, but after bouncing back and forth between Seattle and Tacoma each of the last three years, he has run out of minor league options.

Erasmo Ramirez posted his best numbers as a Mariner during his rookie campaign in 2012. After beginning the season in the M’s bullpen, Ramirez successfully transitioned to the starting rotation. The right-hander finished the year with a 1-3 record, and registered an impressive 3.36 ERA across 59.0 innings of work. Ramirez recorded 7.3 strikeouts per 9 innings, and walked just 1.8 batters per 9 innings. His strikeout to walk ratio of 4.0 was tops on the team among starting pitchers. While he struggled with consistency at times, it was abundantly clear Ramirez had a very bright future in front of him in a Mariners’ uniform.

Feb 21, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (50) throws to first base during camp at Peoria Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately for the Mariners, Erasmo Ramirez has regressed significantly in each of the last two seasons. Ramirez has made 27 starts for the Mariners since the beginning of the 2013 season, and for the most part, he has failed to impress. He has gone 6-9 with a 5.12 ERA across 147.2 innings pitched. His strikeout totals have stayed relatively consistent, as he has struck out 7.1 hitters per 9 innings. However, the command he showcased in 2012 has vanished. He has issued 3.7 free passes per 9 innings, and he has allowed 1.497 walks/hits per inning over his last 27 outings. While not horrible, his 1.97 strikeout to walk ratio leaves plenty to be desired. Based on Ramirez’s performance over the past two seasons, 2012 appears to have been a cruel mirage.

It is not all bad however, as Erasmo Ramirez has put up some pretty nice numbers in the minor leagues. He sports a career ERA of 3.26 across 7 seasons in the minor leagues. Ramirez may have struggled last summer with the Mariners, but he pitched quite well for the M’s triple-A affiliate in Tacoma. The 24-year-old went 6-5 and posted a 3.66 ERA with the Rainiers in 2014. Ramirez struck out 7.0 batters per 9 innings, and issued just 1.4 free passes per 9 innings. His 5.15 strikeout to walk ratio was incredible. The Pacific Coast League is notoriously hitter friendly, but Ramirez shined last season in Tacoma.

So, why can’t Ramirez pitch like this in Seattle?

Obviously, I cannot fully answer this question. However, from an outsider’s perspective, the problem appears to be psychological. He has not made any significant changes to his delivery, nor has he struggled with injuries. Ramirez seems to be experiencing a crisis of confidence. He is the kind of pitcher that when one thing goes wrong, he has a hard time recovering. Ramirez consistently gets in trouble because he has a terrible time locating his pitches. He gets behind hitters far too often, and then has to exhaust his pitch count fighting back. Until Ramirez can consistently throw strikes, he will never be a realistic option in the Mariners’ starting rotation.

Erasmo Ramirez will get his second, and perhaps last, start of spring training Wednesday afternoon against the Colorado Rockies. First pitch is set for 1:05 PST from the Peoria Sports Complex versus the Rockies. Ramirez’s first start of the spring did not go as planned, as he was touched up for 2 runs across two innings last week against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ramirez once again had trouble keeping his opponent off base, as the Dodgers tallied 5 hits on the day. Ramirez will need a strong showing on Wednesday against the Rockies to keep his dream of starting 2015 in Seattle alive.

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Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias are both currently ahead of Erasmo Ramirez in the hunt to land the final spot in the Mariners’ opening day starting rotation. Walker has been electric this spring and appears to be the heavy favorite at the moment to secure the job. Walker has hurling five shutout innings to start the spring, striking out 6 hitters, and holding the opponent to just 0.40 walks/hits per inning. Elias went 10-12 and posted a 3.85 ERA across 29 starts for the M’s in 2014. While he struggled with location at times, he also showed flashes of brilliance. The 26-year-old has had a disappointing spring thus far, allowing 2 runs on 7 hits across 4 innings of work.

As mentioned earlier, this spring is critical for Erasmo Ramirez. He is out of minor league options, and if Ramirez is unable to crack the 25-man roster, he will have to pass through waivers. Due to Ramirez’s young age and high upside, I believe another club would scoop him up on the waiver wire. If he is somehow able to clear waivers he would then get sent back to triple-A Tacoma. There has been some discussion about moving Ramirez to the bullpen, but I do not believe he makes the Mariners as a reliever.

Wednesday’s outing will be the most important start of Erasmo Ramirez’s brief career. If he fails to impress against the Rockies, the M’s may look to trade him to avoid the waiver process. I have serious doubts about him being able to overtake Taijuan Walker, and honestly, I would be shocked if Ramirez makes the Mariners’ opening day roster. It is do or die time for Ramirez.

Make sure you tune in to Root Sports Northwest on Wednesday afternoon at 1:05 pm to watch as Erasmo Ramirez pitches for his life against the Colorado Rockies.

Next: Seattle Mariners Get ‘Rocked’, Lose 9-3

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