FRISCO, Texas -- Starting pitcher Neil Ramirez found himself at Triple-A Round Rock through a series of circumstances that he didn't foresee. And now that he's been there, he wants to get back as soon as possible. "It was awesome being up in Triple-A, and I loved being up there with those guys and battling with them all year," said Ramirez, who is now rehabbing in Double-A Frisco. "It would be awesome to get back up there and maybe help them get into the playoffs." Ramirez, a right-hander who had not been higher than Class A Hickory in his first three professional seasons, was called up for two spot starts at Round Rock because of a viral infection to Eric Hurley.
Ramirez pitched well enough to keep his spot in the Triple-A rotation when Hurley returned, earning a 3.68 ERA in 17 starts at Round Rock. He finds himself in Frisco because of shoulder fatigue -- an issue that put him on the 7-day disabled list on July 15 -- and he is rehabbing his shoulder back to health by throwing fewer innings in Double-A. "It didn't bother me as much when I got the MRI and I could see that there was nothing is going on," Ramirez said. "Before then, I was a little nervous about it, because it was the first time I'd really ever felt anything back there. The MRI came back and everything was good, real good -- I'd just lost some range of motion that I'd had early on." Ramirez's performance this season has been markedly better than any of the seasons since the Rangers drafted him with the 44th overall pick in 2007. He had struggled in Hickory, posting ERAs above 4.40 in each of the two full seasons he spent there. Ramirez credits his improvement to consistency in his mechanics. "It's really just building on last year and staying consistent," Ramirez said. "These past couple years, I've been trying to find a delivery that I can throw with mechanics and be in the zone. This year, it's been building on that and staying in a routine, and really focusing on getting guys out, and not worrying about the mechanics and stuff like that." With his success at Triple-A, the Rangers may look at calling up Ramirez when big league active rosters can expand to 40 players in September. His numbers suggest that he could be a long reliever. He owns a 1.83 ERA in the first three innings of his starts this season, contrasted with a 7.03 ERA after that. Part of the reason for the wide splits is that he threw too many pitches to get through those first three innings. Even before the shoulder fatigue and subsequent rehab, Ramirez needed 90 pitches or more to get through five innings or fewer on five separate occasions at Round Rock, while never going more that six innings in any start. "I'm in the zone, but my command in the zone has been a little shaky," Ramirez said. "My walks have been a little high. You try not to focus on not walking guys, and focus on what you need to do to get guys out. I just need to tighten up my command in the zone." He often tries to be too fine, throwing just outside of the strike zone, which brings deeper counts, and robs him of effectiveness later in the game. "If you're not attacking guys and you're nibbling from the very beginning, you're going to find yourself in some deep counts," Ramirez said. "This year, I've found myself in some deep counts. I've been able to get guys out, but those outs at this level may not transfer to outs in the next level."
Louie Horvath is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.