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March 26, 2013 at 9:28 AM

The lowdown on what’s going on with Mariners pitcher Erasmo Ramirez

Mariners pitcher Erasmo Ramirez will open the season with Class AAA Tacoma in order to build up his arm as a starter. Photo Credit: AP

Mariners pitcher Erasmo Ramirez will open the season with Class AAA Tacoma in order to build up his arm as a starter. Photo Credit: AP

There has been a ton of head-scratching about what’s gone on with Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez the past two weeks.

Well, I’ve got the full lowdown on it now and it involves both Ramirez and Jon Garland. And no, Ramirez will not be starting the season in the majors. He’s going to Class AAA.

[do action="cinesport" url="http://cinesport.seattletimes.com/inline/2253377025001/"/]Ramirez threw six innings of two-run ball in a game against the Rockies back on March 16. But the Mariners at the time faced a tough decision on whether to keep starting pitcher Jon Garland, who had an “out” clause in his contract due to be exercised six days later — the day after Ramirez’s next start.

The Mariners at that point decided to start Garland the night before that “out” clause could take effect — against the Chicago Cubs the night of Ramirez’s next scheduled outing. Instead of starting Ramirez, the team piggybacked him in relief of Garland that night so they could get a full look at Garland against MLB competition.

Ramirez was supposed to make a start three or four days after that. But the Cubs lit him up and he was pulled after just two innings. That’s when he complained of triceps tightness — normal for pitchers in spring training — and the team backed him off. He was originally scheduled to throw between 55 and 60 pitches against the Dodgers tomorrow in another relief outing behind Felix Hernandez.

Instead — because nobody knows how many innings Hernandez might pile up before reaching his allotted pitch count — Ramirez is now scheduled to throw in a minor league game. And no, he isn’t heading north with the team on Opening Day. I’m told there is no intention of using him in a bullpen role. He’s being built up strictly as a starting pitcher an that will require having him start in AAA until his arm is ready.

As for the idea Ramirez would have made the team in any event had he not felt tightness in the Cubs game, I have been told that was far from certain. Ramirez had certainly stayed close with the pack in terms of contending for a final spot. But other factors still would have come into play: like his potential durability over an entire season, given his injury history last year where he was sidelined a month with an elbow problem.

The team still would have had to see Ramirez build his arm up the duration of camp, then make a call on whether he could consistently generate similar results once the season began. It was anything but a slam dunk for him. Now, it’s a non-starter. He didn’t hold up long enough in camp to be ready to start the year.

As for Garland, there was a similar process at-play when it came to him making the team. There were a lot of sleepless nights for those tasked with making the decision because of Garland’s past injury history and the likelihood of him holding up over the long haul.

The Mariners were a split decision-making group heading into his start last Thursday, which is why so many eyes were keenly watching his every pitch. In the end, the six innings of two-run ball looked good on paper.

But what titled the scale against signing him: his extensive use of secondary pitches throughout the contest.

Garland’s history of success in the majors involved him throwing his sinker and cutter. In the Cubs game, he relied heavily on breaking stuff and off-speed pitches. The Mariners, in the end, were unsure whether he was doing that to get the best results possible, or whether he was reluctant to unleash the arm full-throttle.

And that’s why, in the end, they opted not to sign Garland and let him walk.

Up to that point, they had hoped to include him in the rotation. But the final decision really did come right down to the wire. And now, with the Ramirez setback, the two remaining rotation spots appear headed to Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer.

Jeremy Bonderman pitches today, but again, the same dynamic is at-play here. Bonderman is a guy with an injury history who hasn’t pitched since 2010. The Mariners have durability questions about him that they would like to see answered and he’s unlikely to do that even if he does throw 90 pitches today. The team would likely want him to do that multiple times to settle any lingering questions and there just isn’t time. They want him to shake the rust off an get used to throwing at a higher pitch count on a consistent basis before they award him a roster spot.

That’s why, barring a trade, it’s Beavan and Maurer.

I’m told the team did scout Chris Capuano of the Dodgers but it was more a due dilligence thing. When you look at where team payroll is and what Capuano earns, that’s a hefty amount for the Mariners to take on in search of another back end starter when they could have Bonderman ready in AAA by May if needed.

It isn’t simply a matter of trading Casper Wells for Capuano. To offset the salary, the only guy the Mariners can really deal is Franklin Gutierrez and if you’re the Mariners, does that really sound like a great move in return for a fourth or fifth starter? No, it does not.

Maurer has earned his way on to the team, based on who is left. As for Beavan, despite some struggles adapting to a new delivery, he doesn’t carry the durability concerns those other pitchers do. And at spring training, where stats can mislead, durability and the ability to keep generating results every fifth day, carries a lot of weight. In a 100-meter race at the Olympics, they don’t give out the medals to the guy leading at the halfway mark. You have to finish the race. In spring training, in any event, the guys heading north are the ones who held up over the long haul. That may change in coming months, but for now, this is where things stand. And much of it is about durability and past history.

It’s why Hisashi Iwakuma didn’t open last season in the rotation. It’s why Garland will be opening with the Colorado Rockies. And it’s why Ramirez will be AAA-bound until he can build up the arm strength to start consistently and maintain his results over the long-haul.

 

 

 

Comments | More in spring training | Topics: erasmo ramirez; jon garland; blake beavan; chris capuano

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