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September 8, 2013 at 6:13 PM

Erasmo Ramirez, Kendrys Morales look for late improvements

Yoervis Medina stands on mound with teammates during an eighth inning in which he allowed three runs to the Tampa Bay Rays and took a 4-1 loss. Photo Credit: AP

Yoervis Medina stands on mound with teammates during an eighth inning in which he allowed three runs to the Tampa Bay Rays and took a 4-1 loss. Photo Credit: AP

The Mariners lost to the Rays, 4-1, today, which wasnt much of a surprise given that one team is still playing for something while the other is 13 games under .500. But what was a surprise was how much of a scare the Mariners threw into the Rays, taking a 1-0 lead to the eighth inning and looking like they might sweep.

Some late bullpen mishaps by Yoervis Medina and Hector Noesi took care of that in the eighth and ninth and the Rays managed to get out of town without being swept.

Anyhow, one reason the Mariners came close to sweeping was the mound work by Erasmo Ramirez and the continued plate surge of Kendrys Morales.

Ramirez tossed six scoreless innings, carrying a 1-0 lead to the seventh courtesy of Morales having hit his 20th homer of the season. That’s three homers in six games for Morales since he revamped his batting stance in Kansas City prior to last Tuesday’s contest. Prior to that, he’d gone a career high 28 straight games without going deep.

“I was seeing the ball well earlier and I’ve really worked in the batting cage to correct that,’’ Morales said, through interpreter Ryan Schmitz. “I’m seeing the pitches a lot better.’’

I asked Morales what corrections he’d made. He told me his batting stance had gotten noticeably more open from earlier this season, when he was having success. So, he and hitting coach Dave Hansen — after spotting the change on video last Tuesday — worked on him using a tighter stance right away.

Morales is 9-for-21 (.429) with the three homers since that time. His OPS is back up to .795.

As for Ramirez, he’s looked a lot more confident in recent outings. That can be a natural byproduct of players who’ve had time to feel their way back from an arm injury.

Not every pitcher can throw full-throttle coming off an arm problem like the triceps injury Ramirez had. He’s been back for just over two months now and told me that, indeed, he wasn’t throwing his pitches like he normally would right away.

“When you come back from an injury, you’re sometimes afraid to throw more breaking balls,’’ Ramirez said. “But when you continue throwing and throwing and can feel your arm getting stronger, you feel like you need to throw more breaking balls because this game isn’t only about fastballs.

“Your arm gets stronger and your confidence gets better too. You start throwing your four pitches for strikes and your confidence goes up. It helps you make more quality pitches.’’

Ramirez mixed his pitches in well in this game. He used a changeup particularly well against lefties to keep them off balance while his slider and fastball neutralized right-handers for the most part.

One stat that jumped out from today was that Ramirez walked four batters. When asked about it, he said he’s been trying to work the edges of the plate with his fastball more instead of throwing strikes down the middle where they are more hittable.

He missed on a few of those, clearly. But other times, he was on-target and it helped him limit the damage caused by the walks since the Rays were unable to make solid contact. Instead, they hit into quick outs, which kept Ramirez’s pitch count workable despite all the walks and his five strikeouts.

“Even though I walked four guys…I made the pitches I needed to in order to induce contact,’’ he said. “I just thought about throwing the ball so that hitters could make contact without having the ball drift over home plate. I just tried to hit the corners.’’

That’s about it for today. The Mariners couldn’t score enough and the bullpen couldn’t get it done late — the seventh inning job by Charlie Furbush notwithstanding.

It’s all about next year now. For Ramirez, he’s trying to crack the 2014 rotation with a bevy of young arms competing for spots. And for Morales, he’s hoping to parlay a strong finish into a hefty contract. We’ll see how that plays out from here.

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