Ramirez' Return to Minors Isn't "Easy"

Elizardo Ramirez has had a season that has not gone how he expected. One day, he's at Class A Clearwater, the next, he's a major leaguer. At first, Ramirez' stay in the majors was supposed to be short-lived, but somehow, he stayed there longer than anyone expected. Now, Ramirez is back in the minors and working to return himself to where he was before his prolonged visit to Philadelphia, only this time, he's at a higher level than when he left.

"I thought he (Ramirez) could have handled starting at AA this year," explained Reading manger Greg Legg, who saw Ramirez in camp this past spring. Legg thought in many ways, Ramirez was ahead of both Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels. "Ramirez is one of those guys with a true mound presence," said Legg.

While Legg didn't get his wish and Ramirez started the year at Class A Clearwater, it wasn't long before Ramirez got a promotion. With the big league club worried about Vicente Padilla's elbow and other higher level pitchers ineligible to return to the majors because they had just been sent back down, Ramirez got the call to report to the Phillies. In hindsight, the Phillies probably should have rested Padilla and his sore elbow, but the right-hander insisted that he was okay and made his scheduled start. Now, he's out until at least August with a bone bruise on his elbow. The popular opinion was that the Phillies might keep Ramirez in the majors for a few days, but days soon turned into weeks. There was always something that prevented the Phillies from sending Ramirez back to the minors.

Finally, with Roberto Hernandez, Billy Wagner and Randy Wolf all returning from the DL, Ramirez was optioned out. While he was technically demoted, he still wound up pitching at a higher level than where he had been before heading to Philadelphia. The Phillies decided that Ramirez could start back at the AA level and Legg finally had his wish of having Ramirez as a member of his staff.

In some ways, "Easy" Ramirez is starting over. After being used out of the bullpen in the majors, Ramirez is pretty much out of pitching shape to be a starter. Since he didn't get a lot of major league work, he is a little rusty and it showed in his first start for AA Reading. "He's out of rhythm, which we figured he would be," said Reading pitching coach Rod Nichols. After all, it had been nine days since Ramirez pitched at all and the lack of work, combined with his first real taste of failure had Ramirez in a tough spot when he showed up at the clubhouse door in Reading. For now, Reading will keep Ramirez on a pretty tight pitch count as they work him back to shape to be a successful member of their starting rotation. Nichols figures it will likely be a couple weeks before Ramirez is off the pitch count and where he needs to be in terms of arm strength and conditioning.

Why the Phillies kept Ramirez in the majors for as long as they did isn't clear. They weren't really helping him, because he wasn't getting much of a chance to pitch and when he did pitch, he was struggling. Plus, Ramirez future is likely as a starter and he may have come close a time or two to getting a major league start, but continued to labor at the far end of the bullpen bench during most games. It's somewhat unusual that the Phillies would stress the need for Chase Utley to play on an everyday basis at AAA Scranton rather than pinch-hit in the majors, but would have Ramirez buried in the bullpen when he could have been continuing his development in the minors. It's not a consistent policy, especially when you consider that Ramirez is far less developed as a player than Utley is. It was also risky since pitchers with less of a confident attitude than Ramirez has could have been somewhat shattered by the experience.

All should turn out well though for Ramirez. In a couple weeks, the major league experience will be behind him and he'll be back to the shape he was before his time in the bigs. Along with Keith Bucktrot and Gavin Floyd, Ramirez will give Reading a more than formidable rotation, providing that Floyd isn't moved along to either AAA or possibly even the majors. You have to figure that somewhere along the line, Floyd will be interested in picking Ramirez' brain and learning from his time in the majors. Of course, when Floyd hits Philly, it will likely not be much like the experience that Ramirez had. Floyd's arrival will be more trumpeted and it's likely that he won't find himself buried in the bullpen, waiting for a chance to hit the mound.

While Legg felt this spring that Ramirez was ahead of Floyd and Hamels, he is now definitely behind at least Floyd. He would be behind Hamels in development if it were not for Hamels' balky elbow. On the prospect charts though, Ramirez lags behind both of the higher ranked pitchers. It will be interesting to see how their careers all shake out when the history of Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels and Elizardo Ramirez is written. Odds are that Ramirez may not fall too far behind the big boys of the Phillies minor league system.

Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories