Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Horacio Ramirez had his third appearance against live batting practice Thursday, and there were a lot of positives. It’s easy to say the pitchers are ahead of the hitters at this early point in the spring, but for a pitcher looking for good signs, watching some of the Braves’ best hitters foul off balls in the cage was encouraging.
“It felt great,” Ramirez said afterward. “I felt great out there. It was my third time to live BP and every time I’ve done better.”
No one more than Ramirez knows he needs to be more consistent in 2006, and the focus on that goal is his priority this spring. He’s not doing anything drastically different mechanically, but instead simply trying to become a more consistent starting pitcher, one the Braves can count on in the middle of their rotation.
“I think my whole life I’ve been consistent,” Ramirez explained. “That’s been a strong point for me. Even if I don’t have my greatest stuff, I’ll find a way to get guys out and keep the team in the game. ”
However last year was a different story, and the proof is in the numbers. Ramirez was better at home (8-1, 3.59 ERA, .253 batting average against) than on the road (3-8, 5.69 ERA, .310 BAA). The lefty also struggled early and late in the season, while doing well in the two middle months. Ramirez was 3-4 in April and May with a 5.65 ERA, then 6-2 in June and July with a 3.56 ERA, followed by a 2-3 record in August and September with a 5.38 ERA.
“Last year that was the most frustrating part for me was going out there and throwing four innings and giving up eight runs,” Ramirez said. “The team has no shot at coming back and winning late in the game. So to me, that was the most disappointing part about last year.”
But this is a new year, and Ramirez is primed to take that next step. He feels he must get back to the level he showed early in 2004, when he had an ERA of 2.39 in nine starts before being injured in May, which forced him to miss most of the rest of that season.
Count staff ace John Smoltz as one person in Ramirez’s corner. Ramirez worked out with Smoltz in Atlanta for part of the winter, and the Braves’ veteran starter believes the 26-year-old is primed to bust out.
“He’s going to be fine,” Smoltz said. “He’s going to have a fresh start. I think he was a little bit confused of what to do and how to do it. Now that he assessed his season and survived a role that didn’t pitch every five days…he had some lapses where he didn’t pitch a while without pitching…those are different changes that people have to deal with. I think it’s behind him now, and I think he realizes he’s a mainstay in the rotation.”
“I’m happy he’s got that kind of confidence in me,” Ramirez said. “I feel like I can do it. I feel I’m ready to go to the next level. I think I was close in that 2004 year and ended up getting hurt. Last year I wasn’t say it was a step back because it’s a step back because it was a learning process. And I did learn from it. I know last year won’t happen again.”
The Braves need him to be right.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.