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Ramirez emerging as reliable relief arm

Injury updates: Encarnacion, Kipnis
MLB.com @MLBastian

DETROIT -- Neil Ramirez has worn a lot of hats over the past two years. He has been claimed off waivers three times and signed as a free agent at four other junctures. Seven teams have identified something in the right-hander that warranted giving him a chance, even if he didn't stick around for long.

"Everybody can see the arm," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And we could've done the same thing. His ERA after his first four outings was 10.00. We could've easily said, 'Go to your eighth team.' I don't think we view it like that. If we see something that we think can work, we'd rather work with him than run away."

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DETROIT -- Neil Ramirez has worn a lot of hats over the past two years. He has been claimed off waivers three times and signed as a free agent at four other junctures. Seven teams have identified something in the right-hander that warranted giving him a chance, even if he didn't stick around for long.

"Everybody can see the arm," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And we could've done the same thing. His ERA after his first four outings was 10.00. We could've easily said, 'Go to your eighth team.' I don't think we view it like that. If we see something that we think can work, we'd rather work with him than run away."

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The rope that Cleveland has offered Ramirez has helped him show that maybe he can provide some reliability in the later innings. While the sample size remains small, that has certainly been the case of late for the hard-throwing reliever. As the Tribe's relief corps has slowly emerged from its rocky May, Ramirez has increasingly stepped up when offered the opportunity.

As Francona noted, Ramirez posted a 13.50 ERA in his first four appearances after being promoted from Triple-A Columbus last month. In his six appearances since that rough first impression, the right-hander has yielded no runs over 6 2/3 innings, stuck out six and held opposing batters to a .439 OPS. Four times in that span, Ramirez has entered in the eighth inning.

"It feels great," Ramirez said. "I think it's probably been since 2014 when I've been in these situations, where the game is actually close or a high-leverage situation. I pride myself on being a guy who can pitch in those situations. I've put a lot of work in to be able to do that. For [Francona] to have that trust in me, it feels great, but at the same time, we know that everybody out there can do that same thing."

Ramirez, 29, had an outstanding rookie showing with the Cubs in 2014, posting a 1.44 ERA in 50 games. The righty had a 1.87 ERA in 69 appearances over the '14-15 campaigns combined, but injury issues and diminished velocity began to plague his production. Over the '16-17 seasons, in which Ramirez had big league stops with five clubs, he had a 6.67 ERA in 47 games.

This season with Cleveland, Ramirez has enjoyed increased velocity on his fastball (96.6 mph on average) and improved depth on his slider, giving Francona an intriguing setup option over the past few weeks.

"Teams keep jumping on him," Francona said, "because they're like, 'We can fix him.' Well, maybe we're the team that catches the break. Sometimes guys aren't situated at a point in their career to have success. And it's not that we're smarter than anybody else, maybe we just got him at the right time."

Tweet from @MLBastian: Neil Ramirez has averaged 96.6 mph with his fastball this season. That, combined with an improved slider, has helped him emerge recently as an option in later innings for the Indians. pic.twitter.com/uofLeSeTI4

Worth noting
• Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion remained out of the lineup on Sunday due to right ankle soreness, marking the second game in a row he sat out with the ailment. Francona noted that Encarnacion was scheduled to take batting practice Sunday with the hope of returning to the lineup Monday in Chicago.

• Second baseman Jason Kipnis was pulled during Saturday's game due to neck stiffness and remained out of the lineup on Sunday in Detroit. Kipnis is day to day with the issue and was replaced in the lineup of the weekend series finale by Erik Gonzalez.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Neil Ramirez