Ramirez Working To Turn Things Around

Coming into the season, one of the Oakland A's sleeper prospects was lefty Anvioris Ramirez, who posted a 3.69 ERA for the Rookie League A's and Low-A Kane County in 2009. The 2010 season has been disastrous for Ramirez, however. He started the year at High-A Stockton, but was recently demoted to Kane County. Chris Emma spoke to Cougars' pitching coach Jimmy Esclante about Ramirez's struggles.

For the second time in his career, left-handed pitcher Anvioris Ramirez is back with the Low-A Kane County Cougars.

During his first stint with the Cougars, Ramirez was 5-2 with a 3.29 ERA in nine total starts, so he was sent up to the Stockton Ports, Oakland's High-A affiliate. During his time in Stockton, however, Ramirez faced miserable struggles. In eight starts with the Ports, Ramirez was 0-6 with a 7.94 ERA. Those struggles brought Ramirez back to Kane County.

Ramirez was immediately put into the Cougars' rotation, and in his first start back with the Cougars, Ramirez's struggles continued. He surrendered eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, and earned a loss.

Ramirez's return to Kane County reunites the pitcher with his old pitching coach during the 2009 season, Jimmy Escalante. Escalante is the second-year pitching coach for Kane County, and last season, he helped build Ramirez into a "warrior," as he described him.

Escalante feels his 22-year old lefty's biggest issues on the mound are mental.

"He'll battle one or two hitters, and then his pitch count will get up pretty high," said Escalante. "And the hitter wins the battle. His whole attitude starts to deteriorate."

Ramirez was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the A's in 2005, and spent parts of four seasons in the A's Dominican Summer League. For his career, Ramirez is 16-22 with a 3.84 ERA in 72 games (43 starts).

According to Escalante, Ramirez has the physical tools to be a good pitcher, but he has to focus on attacking each batter.

"Last year, he had command of three pitches," Escalante said. "He wasn't afraid to go inside on hitters. He basically attacked the zone last year. Obviously this year, he's having a bit more trouble with that aspect of going after hitters."

Escalante preaches to all of his pitchers that they attack each batter and he teaches his pitchers to be mentally strong and pitch to contact. Ramirez has done the opposite of that since the start of the season.

"He's nicking the corners and trying not to get hit instead of trying to force contact in three or less pitches, which is our motto," said Escalante. "We try to go after guys and let themselves get out."

When a pitcher like Ramirez is struggling, Escalante works personally with them on their focus. More specifically, helping the pitcher minimize bad thoughts. Before every series, Escalante sits down with all of his pitchers, and talks of the mental aspect of being a pitcher. The main focal points include shortening up at bats and pitching for contact, while not losing control.

During Ramirez's first stint in Kane County, he had better control on the mound, and therefore had a lower pitch count, which allowed him to pitch deeper into games. This season, he has been wild, and unable to recover when he gets behind in a count against an opposing hitter. According to Escalante, this is where the mental approach comes into play.

Ramirez's problems this season strictly mental, although Escalante admitted those were the biggest issues. The Cougars pitching coach was able to find a few mechanical issues with Ramirez's delivery that are in need of tweaks.

"His front shoulder is starting to drop as he lifts his knee up, which makes him rush to the plate, and then his arm has to catch up with the rest of him. He's just not letting his arm be nice and free out front where we want it. And then his landing is a little skiddish, and he's slowing up his arm on his off-speed pitches. There's all sorts of stuff we can pick at, it's just the mental side that we need to break down first."

Once he was notified of the demotion to Kane County, Ramirez had just one day to prepare with Escalante for his first start of 2010 with the Cougars. After time working with his pitching coach, Ramirez will start again on Saturday, May 29th, when the Cougars play the Clinton Lumber Kings.

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