Much has been made of the Padres' organizational approach to offense, but they have a similar mantra for pitching. First and foremost, they believe in throwing strikes, keeping the ball in the park and throwing the changeup.
Left-hander Cesar Ramos, the Padres' supplemental 2005 first round draft pick out of Long Beach State, epitomizes this approach. He's not going to light up a radar gun, or post big strikeout numbers, but he can seemingly place his fastball anywhere in the zone and makes his living getting hitters to chase two-seamers and sliders in the dirt.
Since the All-Star break, Ramos, 23, has gone 8-2 with a 2.64 ERA. His K/BB ratio isn't that impressive, 41/21, but he averages nearly six innings a game, doesn't give up runs and keeps his team in every game.
You've had a pretty good year this year, but one thing that always stands out to me is that you seem to have a lot of success without getting a lot of strikeouts or having a big separation between your walks and strikeouts. What is the secret to your success?
Cesar Ramos: My game is about getting early contact, getting the batter to swing at my pitch in three pitches or less. I'm trying to make them get themselves out. I could care less about strikeouts, but I do worry about walks. I try to limit them as much as possible, but as long as I'm getting the outs I don't worry about it too much. I've had a lot of double play balls this year so I really worry more about getting contact.
It just makes it tough to look at the numbers and have something to go on for an evaluation.
Cesar Ramos: [laughs] Can't help you there.
Also it seems like you will allow a decent number of hits per inning, but you don't see that many runs coming across. Is it like you said, you're putting the ball in play and sometimes they squirt through sometimes they don't?
Cesar Ramos: Exactly, as long as I am putting the ball in play, ground balls, sometimes they are going to go through, sometimes they are right at my guys – but it evens out throughout the game. As long as I'm getting ground balls and keeping it in the park, something is going to happen.
Can you go over for our readers the type of pitches that you throw?
Cesar Ramos: I have a four- and two-seam fastball. They did away with my curveball this year, so it's just fastballs, change and slider. I'm trying to develop a better slider and changeup which has been coming around the second half. Hopefully my command will stay where it is and my slider will develop a little more and we'll see where we go from there.
Now you mainly throw a two-seamer for your fastball is that correct?
Cesar Ramos: Yeah, unless I'm going inside to a righty and then I'll throw the four-seam. It's usually that two-seam sinking away where I get them to put the ball in play.
We talked with one of your catchers earlier, Colt Morton, and he said one of the better things about you is that you not only go right to left, but also up and down and change batter's eye levels.
Cesar Ramos: You always have to work both sides of the plate, but there are so many guys that you can beat up and in as well. Every hitter has a weakness and as the game goes on you start to understand what they are. It becomes my strength versus their strength; and I'll take mine when I'm out there.
Was it tough getting used to throwing inside? It seems for many college pitchers it's hard getting used to throwing inside after playing against aluminum bats for so many years where if you throw inside you can really get hurt?
Cesar Ramos: This year I've started to throw a lot more inside, which I think is the reason that I've had more success, especially in the second half. Before guys were getting on the plate and just diving because I threw so much outside, but now I'm forcing them to protect both sides. Now it's just more of a mind game.
Coach Abbott [San Antonio Mission's pitching coach] said that he works with the whole staff on pitching inside, to force batters to protect both sides of the plate.
Cesar Ramos: Definitely, you have to keep them conscious of both sides. Guys here aren't that good where they can cover the whole plate. If you can use both sides it can really help you.
What do you need to improve upon in the future?
Cesar Ramos: Just throwing my off-speed for strikes, because that is going to be big later on if I keep moving up. When you get to higher levels you have to be able to throw off-speed for strikes when you are behind in the count, so I don't have to come with the fastball when they are ready for it.
So what you believe is your strength is you ability to command your fastball and you need to develop your secondary pitches?
Cesar Ramos: I'm always trying to get them to chase, but I need to be able to throw the slider and change any time in the count and place it where I want. That is what separates the guys up there from us in the minors.
Your numbers have picked up every month. What has been your biggest improvement this year?
Cesar Ramos: Just learning new things game to game, which is what I've always tried to do. First half this year I was just getting my feet wet and figuring out how to get guys out. It was also learning to trust my stuff and know it was good enough. In the second half, it was a whole new game – and I put it together a little more.
We noticed that at Fort Wayne the pitching staff there has a few guys who can consistently throw it in the 90's but are struggling. You come here and none of the staff is going to light up a radar gun, but all of you have been pretty successful, especially in the second half. Why is that?
Cesar Ramos: Really it's just learning how to pitch, set guys up and put the ball where you want. No one is going to be successful in the pros if you just throw it as hard as you can down the middle because the guys here are going to catch up to it, especially at this level.
I'll take my chances with 88 on the corner rather than 97 down the middle. We've seen guys on other teams in this league who can throw 96 to 98 and it's either down the middle or they don't know where it's going. We have guys here who know how to pitch, throw strikes and command the fastball. That's why we win.