By: Nick Roark
Tennessee Smokies starting pitcher Neil Ramirez found himself a part of a unique scenario Monday evening, celebrating his new team’s North Division title just two days after arriving at Smokies Park.
The 6-foot-4, right-handed throwing Ramirez found himself with a new team and new organization last week when the Virginia Beach native was informed he was being sent to the Chicago Cubs as a player to be named later in the trade that sent Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers in July.
“I think the team that you get traded to, obviously they want you and they’ve seen you,” Ramirez said after packing his bags for the team’s road trip to Chattanooga. “I think it will be a good opportunity here and a fresh start and I’m definitely going to roll with it.”
A first-round draft pick of the Rangers in 2007, Ramirez has been on a roll in 2013, going 9-3 with a 3.84 ERA in 21 starts for Double-A Frisco. Those numbers are similar to ones put up this season by a recently promoted Smokies pitcher and former Rangers’ farmhand.
“His mechanics, delivery and leg kick are somewhat like Kyle Hendricks,” Smokies manager Buddy Bailey said.
Hendricks – dealt to the Cubs’ organization last summer as part of the trade that sent Ryan Dempster to Texas – went 10-3 with a 1.85 ERA in 21 games in his first season with Tennessee before being promoted to Iowa in early August. While Hendricks relied mostly on command and breaking pitches, Ramirez says his success comes with the fastball.
“The fastball’s my bread-and-butter. I like to be real aggressive with that in-and-out, especially early in the game establishing in,” Ramirez said. “I just play everything off of that so when I’m establishing my fastball in the zone, I can use all three other pitches pretty effectively.”
The 24-year-old hurler has recovered nicely from a disappointing 8-13 campaign last season between Triple-A Round Rock and Frisco, but ran into trouble nearly a month ago after suffering a right shoulder injury. The 190-pound starter has thrown no more than four innings in his last four starts while allowing at least two earned runs in three of the four outings.
“It’s been tough the past month being up-and-down, but I feel like now I’m starting to get back to the form that I was mid-season,” Ramirez said.
“We laid off a couple of (exercises) as far as upper body workouts go, but as far as mechanics – throwing the ball – everything is the same. Mentally (I’m) just trying to stay dialed in with the down time.”
Bailey said his newest starter “threw strikes and kept the ball down” in a bullpen session on Tuesday, but the real test will come when the former Rangers’ prospect makes his Smokies debut at Chattanooga Thursday evening.
“Some guys can throw bullpens and when the game starts can’t do the same thing,” Bailey said. “I could answer it a whole lot better at this time Thursday night.”
The 53-year-old skipper hopes his new starter can add depth to the rotation for Tennessee’s upcoming playoff run. Having made the postseason every year of his Minor League career, the postseason stage is nothing new to Ramirez.
“I know how exciting it is,” Ramirez said. “I just want to come over here and do my best to help these guys win.”
To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page. Nick Roark is the Senior Beat Writer for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.