ST. LOUIS -- Erasmo Ramírez walked toward home plate at an empty Citi Field three hours before first pitch on Saturday afternoon. He stood behind the dish and raised his phone to snap a photo. Then, he stepped into the batter’s box -- once from the right, once from the left -- and looked toward the outfield.
What began earlier this season as a way to document reaching the milestone of playing in all 30 Major League ballparks over his career has turned into a unique approach for Ramírez to achieve success this season out of the Nationals’ bullpen.
“I tried to get a picture of every stadium, that way I can make a video [of all of them],” Ramírez said. “Every time I was at home plate, I was like, ‘Huh, this looks different.’ Then, I started looking at it, I tried to take a picture, but from the catcher’s perspective. After that, everything is about just creating a game plan and trying to follow it.”
An 11-year veteran whose Minor League innings exceed those in the Majors, Ramírez is having one of the strongest years of his career. His ERA dropped to 2.84 across 73 innings and 51 appearances with a scoreless 2 2/3-frame outing in the Nationals’ 6-5 walk-off loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium. It is his lowest ERA in a season in which he has thrown 20-plus innings.
“It’s always exciting,” Ramírez said. “Any time you get the call, you prepare the best you can to prepare for any situation. Knowing you’re the long reliever, you have to go and execute the best you can. You’re facing a good team, not even just a good hitter.”
The 32-year-old right-hander signed a Minor League deal with Washington in March after being designated for assignment by Detroit last August. He made his first five appearances of the season with Triple-A Rochester, and he has been a key member of the Nats' bullpen since getting called up on April 21.
Ramírez has adapted to roles ranging from a single inning to multiple innings to a pair of starts, including serving as an impromptu opener on June 13, when Josiah Gray was scratched because of a lengthy rain delay. With this reliability, Ramírez has thrown the third-most innings among pitchers with a minimum of 80 percent of their appearances being in relief.
“He's done everything we've asked him to do, and then some,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He's been a quiet leader in the bullpen as well. He's helped out a lot of guys. But he's a bulldog. He takes the ball every day.”
Pitching at a higher frequency this season, Ramírez likes to have a fresh perspective when he visits an opposing ballpark. If he has not pitched there in more than a month, he will take new photos.
Ramírez did that when the Nationals arrived earlier this week for a four-game series at Busch Stadium, where he had not pitched since Aug. 24, 2021. Standing behind the plate, he noted different buildings in the background that could impact how the hitters saw pitches in certain locations.
Ramírez emphasizes his pregame study method would not yield a high success rate if he didn’t implement that day’s strategy on the mound. He lauded backup catcher Riley Adams, who started Wednesday, for being in sync vs. the Cardinals. Ramírez delivered his cutter for 54 percent of his pitches -- the pitch is tied for the third-highest run value (-10) among MLB pitchers.
“He’s just attacking the strike zone, utilizing all his pitches,” Martinez said. “He goes after hitters. He throws strikes after strikes, so he was really effective.”
For all the pictures he pores over, Ramírez does not let himself get frozen in time. A win is a stepping stone to another victory, and a loss is a lesson to learn from, not wallow in. And in the end, he will have a photo album to look back on his accomplished season.
“I’m kind of proud of myself, how I’ve been throwing,” Ramírez said. “I’m just happy they gave me the opportunities all over. … I’m just happy I’ve been able to really take the task. I know a couple times I’ve given up the games, but everything is about the next day. After you give up a game, what are you going to do the next day? Fix your mistakes, go do your best and if you’re pitching good, try to just keep it going.”