'No fear': Ramirez carving key role in 'pen

September 6th, 2021

HOUSTON -- The leverage moments continue to grow for , so much so that he could be a key cog in a Mariners bullpen that has already been the club's biggest catalyst this season.

That’s because the trust in the right-hander from Mariners manager Scott Servais is as high as ever, especially after a gritty 10th-inning performance in an 11-inning win on Sunday in Arizona. Ramirez worked around a sacrifice bunt that put the lead runner at third base before striking out Christian Walker and retiring Josh Rojas on a popup to keep the game tied.

Many Mariners speaking of the game the next day admittedly thought the game was on the ropes.

“No fear,” third baseman Kyle Seager said of Ramirez's performance. “That guy pitches with no fear.”

He also might have more genuine fun playing than anyone on the active roster.

“I was trying to enjoy the game, while not allowing the adrenalin to go way too high,” Ramirez said. “And that way, I was able to kind of enjoy what I was doing without just getting out of the midpoint that I needed to be at.”

Ramirez was arguably the best reliever in a Mariners bullpen last year that was statistically among the Majors’ worst. Yet he didn’t really have a gig out of Spring Training after missing time in camp due to COVID protocols, which put him behind, and eventually, out. He’s been back and forth with Triple-A Tacoma six times this season, largely being used exclusively as an extra arm when the Mariners needed a fresh one.

But now, with expanded rosters and a new arm slot that has helped him throw his fastball more consistently in the strike zone, Ramirez -- who had a 2.61 ERA in 16 outings in 2020 -- will get more opportunities.

“It's been a good season,” Ramirez said. “All I’ve been able to do is control while I can. When I’ve been up and down, or whenever I get sent down, I go down now with the same love, the same attitude. And the only thing that I can control is to get better.”

Ramirez already possessed an elite slider, and there’s been an even bigger uptick on the swings-and-misses against it this season to an impressive 61.2%, per Statcast. For context, Paul Sewald’s slider has a 41.7% whiff rate, albeit with a much larger sample size. As such, opposing hitters are batting .071 and slugging .179 against Ramirez’s breaking ball.

But it’s the fortification of his four-seam fastball that has been the biggest difference in him finding himself again. At Tacoma, Ramirez worked to create a cleaner and more consistent arm slot. Usually, those adjustments are to better disguise pitches out of hand, but for the 26-year-old, it was for better control.

As Statcast shows, Ramirez has created more consistency with his four-seam fastball release point.

“It's allowed him to throw more strikes with the fastball,” Servais said. “He's always had the good breaking ball, but the fastball command was erratic. You didn't know what times you're going to throw enough strikes to get to the breaking ball, where you can get some swing-and-miss on that pitch. But he's been really good. The fastball around the plate has been thrown for strikes, and he's not lost the feel for the breaking ball at all.”

As a 2019 Rule 5 Draft pick from Houston, Ramirez is simply happy to have a gig in the big leagues. But this role -- especially with the Mariners in the thick of the postseason chase -- could comes with as much responsibility as ever. So far, Seattle likes what it sees.

Marte, Rodríguez earn MiLB promotions
Two of the Mariners’ top-end prospects earned Minor League promotions on Monday, the club announced. Infielder Noelvi Marte and outfielder Alberto Rodríguez were both assigned to High-A Everett, representing a nod to their development this season and shaping their path into 2022.

Marte is the club’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and has propelled all the way to the No. 11 spot in Pipeline's recent Top 100 rankings. The 19-year-old, who is as big of a piece to Seattle’s long-term position-player core as anyone else, has been raking his way to a .271/.368/.462 slash line, hitting 17 homers in 99 games for Low-A Modesto.

Rodríguez, Seattle’s No. 21 prospect, hit .295/.383/.484 (.867 OPS) with 10 homers in 93 games at Modesto and has been scouted as one of the better power hitters in the club’s No. 2-ranked farm system. Marte likened him to Barry Bonds recently.

Everett has just 11 games remaining, meaning there isn’t much time left for the pair to get acclimated to its new surroundings. But that also means both players will break camp at High-A next spring.