For a pitcher searching for consistency, Horacio Ramirez's shutout against the Cubs last Thursday was just what the doctor ordered.
"I thought it was a real good start," Ramirez said. "The key for me was execution. I was able to execute my plan. Keep it simple."
After a very solid month of June (4-0 with a 3.55 ERA in six starts), Ramirez started off July with a troubling start. He allowed six runs on eight hits in 4.2 innings against the Phillies on July 2nd, forcing fans to wonder if he was resorting back to his inconsistent pitching he showed in April and May.
"I thought I was on my way to putting together a good string of starts, and Phily really rubbed me the wrong way," Ramirez admitted. "I had two games, prior to the Phillies' start, that were two good games and then I had the bad game in Phily. That one hurt a lot."
But Ramirez spent extra time with Braves' pitching coach Leo Mazzone between starts. He was determined to get back on track, especially with his team needing a quality start.
"Keep it simple," he said. "Leo and I talked about that between starts and I was able to do that today. I just simplified things with three pitches, fastball, cutter, and changeup."
Those pitches were very effective in his shutout against the Cubs. Ramirez allowed only three hits, walked one, and struck out four. He lowered his ERA from 5.09 to 4.65.
"Yeah, I was real happy with the way I threw the ball," Ramirez said. "I established my cutter early in the game. I was pretty happy with my control. I've had control on both sides of the plate. I was throwing a four-seamer a lot more today than usual. One thing I was happy about was it wasn't coming back over the plate. Then if I ever got behind in the count, I could throw a two-seamer."
"He's been mentally struggling with some stuff," said John Smoltz. "So for him to get a shutout before the break has got to be one of the greatest things in the world for him. That's what he's going to feed off of when he goes to his next start."
Without a doubt, the Thursday shutout was one of the best games of Ramirez's career. He feels the game was reminiscent of his performances in his rookie season.
"Last year I threw the ball away more than usual," he explained. "I was able to have some success. This year I've been trying to do that, but the ball cuts back in over the plate. My control of the outer half isn't as good as it was last year, so I've got to come in more and coming in more with my cutter."
One statistic Ramirez knows he must improve in the second half of the season is his home runs allowed. He has given up 16 in his 17 starts, and he realizes it's something he must rectify.
"Some of them were heaters in, some were cutters that didn't cut and just stayed over the plate, and some were changeups that were supposed to be away and cut back in over the plate," he said. "I was able to minimize that today. I was just able to minimize mistakes."
While Ramirez has won eight games in the first half of the season, his ERA is still too high. He more than realizes what he must do to be an ever better pitcher in the second half.
"If I could sum up my first half in one word, it would be ‘inconsistent,'" Ramirez said. "I'm just so up and down. If I can stay consistent, then I will do well."
After missing most of the 2004 season with shoulder trouble, some wondered if Ramirez could hold up this year. But he and the other big injury question mark coming into this season, John Smoltz, are the only ones left of the original starting five. But even with Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton, and John Thomson on the disabled list for part of the first half, the Braves' starting pitchers still have the top ERA in the National League.
"I'm not surprised," said Ramirez. "Our leader is still here. We've got Smoltzie. He's been able to hold things together for us. So I'm not surprised. We just have to do our part. The pitching staff has to stay consistent. Kyle's (Davies) done a great job. The young guys have done a great job."
And even with ten rookies, the Braves remain the team to beat in the National League East. Ramirez admitted that watching the young kids has been fun.
"It's a testament to the depth on this team and the organization," Ramirez said. "I'm sure there are more guys in Triple-A and Double-A that are chomping at the bit to come up here in case anything else happens. So it's a testament to Mr. Schuerholz and Frank Wren, Bobby, and everybody in our scouting staff."
Bill Shanks has a new book out on the Braves that includes a chapter on Horacio Ramirez. "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team" is in Barnes and Noble and Borders Bookstores and online at amazon.com. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ramirez searches for consistency
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