Seattle won another one last night, thanks again – at least in part – to offense from a youngster. Mike Zunino homered for the second time in his young career, providing what would prove to be the winning run as the M’s hung on for a 2-1 victory, their seventh straight, pushing them into a virtual tie for third place in the AL West with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Mariners are still five games under .500, still 11 games behind division leading Oakland, behind four teams in the Wild Card standings and still have some pretty obvious weaknesses when stacked up side-by-side against the top teams in the American League. But the development of the young players and their key role in the club’s success this month is hugely encouraging for the future.
Brad Miller just was recognized for his efforts in the Houston series as American League Player of the Week, and Zunino (1.125), Justin Smoak (.905), Michael Saunders (.893) and Kyle Seager (.879) are all among the American League leaders in OPS since this winning streak started for the M’s. Add in Nick Franklin’s grand slam and a 3-hit game for Dustin Ackley and every one of the young position players is contributing right now. Whether that gives you any hope for 2013 or not is a moot point, because the fact of the matter is that the future is looking bright in that regard – perhaps brighter in a tangible way now more than at any time before in the Zduriencik era.
The only thing missing now is the young pitching.
And while the Big Four are in various states of flux in their burgeoning careers in Tacoma, we get a shot to see another arm – a somewhat forgotten one – who could fill a key role for the M’s toe the rubber tonight.
23-year-old right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will get a chance to run the M’s winning streak to eight when he faces off against the Cleveland Indians and looks to better the results of his first MLB start this season. Ramirez was charged with seven earned runs in just 4 2/3 innings in the club’s 8-7 loss to Boston back on July 11th – incidentally the last time the club tasted defeat.
Erasmo is younger than all of Seattle’s young "prospect" arms save for Taijuan Walker, Carter Capps and Brandon Maurer. Perhaps more importantly, he has more major league innings pitched than all of them, too. He broke camp with the club as the long man briefly in 2012 then came back in the second half and made eight starts for Seattle, ending the season with a 3.36 ERA, 3.55 FIP and 7.2 H/9 in 59 innings.
Despite being slight of stature – particularly for a right-hander, at just 5-foot-11 – Ramirez ranked in the top 30% in average fastball velocity in 2012 at 92.6 MPH and complimented that pitch with two decent breaking balls and a changeup that improved from decent to dominating as he got more comfortable in the role of a starter, turning in the second best game score of a non-Felix Hernandez Mariners starter during his June 25th start in a 1-0 loss to the Oakland A’s (8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO) – a game that saw him throw 28 changeups which got an insane 13 swinging strikes. His control has always been plus and his command advanced in leaps and bounds as 2012 went along, but it was the changeup that turned him from "nice arm" to a true prospect.
While Ramirez did turn in an encouraging "placeholder start" in Everett over the All-Star break (5 1/3, 1 BB, 10 SO), it probably isn’t reasonable to expect a repeat of that Oakland performance tonight against a solid Cleveland team. And it’s not that we should put too much stock into a one game sample in the middle of July in our valuation of Ramirez going forward, either. But a strong start from the Nicaraguan would be another step in the right direction for this team. The Indians are the best hitting team against the changeup this season (23.0 wCH according to FanGraphs) and hit the fastball well, too, so this could be a tough matchup for Erasmo to get healthy in, but with Seattle riding this hot streak and the young players seemingly all clicking nothing is out of the question.
Scott covered a lot of the 2013 background on Ramirez when we learned that he would be called up earlier this month, and while that first start didn’t go as any of the Mariners or their fans would have liked, it is clear that Erasmo Ramirez still has the tools, the repertoire and the ability to be a key contributor for this young Mariners team for years to come.
If Ramirez is able to have those abilities shine through a little bit more tonight and push Seattle’s winning streak to eight it would be another boost for the team in gaining important confidence in themselves, their teammates and their collective future.