Reliever, using his fastball less, has been lights out since callup
By Ben Harris
PHILADELPHIA -- A very literal up-and-down season for Phillies reliever Edubray Ramos is ending on a high note, as apparent as ever in his perfect two-strikeout sixth inning in the Phillies' 4-1 win over the Nationals on Tuesday.
Those highs and lows apply to a few distinct characteristic's of the 24-year-old's season in the Majors, namely his monthlong demotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and the rising use of his two above-average breaking balls.
As the calendar flipped to July, Ramos' ERA topped out at 5.52 amid a struggling Phillies bullpen -- their combined ERA neared five itself, ranked 28th out of 30 teams with the second-worst weighted on-base average in baseball.
The trip up the Turnpike gave Ramos a chance to reset his conviction, both in himself and his pitches, and the resulting success isn't hard to notice. In 10 relief appearances at Triple-A, he allowed two runs in 11 2/3 innings, good for a 1.54 ERA. Upon his August callup, having proved his worth, Ramos continued that success instead of reverting back to his struggling first-half self.
"I gained a lot of confidence, and I needed to gain the confidence back because I had a bad seven-to-10-day stretch where things weren't working for me," Ramos said through an interpreter. "They sent me back down, I tried to work hard as much as I could to gain that confidence back and to get my pitches better, and I think I did it because I feel stronger here again."
Ramos holds a 2.92 ERA since his return to the bigs with 36 strikeouts and just six walks with just one real blemish, a five-run bombarding from the Giants on Aug. 19. Excluding that appearance, his post-callup ERA is a miniscule 1.13. Even with it, a sub-three mark is beyond satisfactory. Much of that success comes from a pair of breaking pitches, his curveball and slider, which he is relying more than ever in his career.
Before his demotion, Ramos chucked fastballs and breaking balls each about half the time. But since, he's turned to the breaking stuff nearly two-thirds of the time (63 percent), dropping his fastball usage down to just one in three pitches.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called Ramos' newly favored offering "as good a breaking ball as you want to see."
"[Pitching coach Bob] McLure is trying to get him to get a little more movement on his fastball because his fastball gets hit pretty hard when he's not locating it," Mackanin said.
Ramos' ability to compensate for a fastball that, while sitting in the mid-90s, hasn't reached it's full potential due to an inconsistent ability to spot and spin life into the offering, speaks volumes to the devastation caused by the slider and curve, especially to right-handers.
In the second half, opponents are 9-for-65 (.138) against his breaking balls with a whopping 29 strikeouts, including two Tuesday to Howie Kendrick and Jayson Werth. Right-handed hitters have succumbed to Ramos' filthy offering for 25 of the 29 punchouts.
He threw 14 pitches Tuesday. Three were fastballs. Eleven were sliders and curves.
"I feel I can rely on my breaking pitches because I know how to use them," Ramos said. "I know when to use them, and they've been working for me, so why not?"
The second-year right-hander agreed with his manager's assessment, pinpointing improved fastball location as an offseason goal. If it comes along, pairing that high-velocity, precisely located fastball with offspeed offerings as good as his draws a promising portrait of a future bullpen piece whom the Phillies have under control for the next four seasons.
Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia and covered the Phillies on Tuesday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.