We would be getting ahead of ourselves to say that Cesar Ramos has established himself as a long-term starting option after just a couple of great games. Even though he has allowed just one run in 10 innings pitched, Ramos has managed just a 3-3 strikeout to walk ratio and has never been a successful major league starter before. Even with that qualification in mind, however, there is something different about Cesar Ramos this season. No one can go from the least-trusted reliever in a bullpen to a player believed in to start games without him making major strides on the mound. What changes has Cesar Ramos made to earn this opportunity and find this much success?
According to Brooks Baseball, Ramos threw his sinker for 84% of his fastballs in 2013 and over 50% overall while making his changeup his primary secondary pitch. Ramos had always used his changeup as his second pitch against right-handed batters, but he nearly doubled its frequency from 16% to 28% against lefties, allowing him to throw his sinker much less and stop throwing his slider against them. Against right-handed batters, meanwhile, Ramos’ slider had found favor. He upped its usage from 15% in 2012 to 23% while cutting his curveball from 15% to 10% and his changeup from 4% to 1%. It was clear that Ramos had found his secondary pitches of choice against righties and lefties, his changeup and slider respectively. He threw his curveball to both sides, but it was always his third pitch and was never very effective. With that in mind, Ramos decide to eliminate it.
This season, Ramos’ overall curveball usage has gone from 11% to just 3% while his slider has shot up from 11% to 24%. His changeup, meanwhile, has stayed almost exactly the same. Ramos’ strategy has been simple: stick to his best two pitches against batters from each side, and it has worked quite well so far. Ramos did need to find a way to keep hitters guessing more, though, so he brought back his four-seamer, throwing it for a third of his fastballs and 18% of the time overall. Ramos essentially used the 8% he took away from his curveball and gave it to his four-seamer. He realized that he was outthinking himself on the mound and that his curveball did nothing to set up his changeup and slider. Now he has rectified that by throwing his fastball more. As a pitcher without overpowering stuff, Ramos’ success was going to be dictated by how well he could mix his pitches. In his past two starts, Ramos has found the right combination of fastballs and his best secondary pitches to keep hitters off-balance and give the Rays too very good starts.
It is going to be difficult for Cesar Ramos to make this last. His fastball has not fooled many hitters, generating a grand total of one swing-and-miss among the 105 times he has thrown it as a starter. His slider and changeup, meanwhile, are good secondary pitches rather than great ones, and they have been significantly less successful compared to his time in relief because batters are seeing them so much more. It is only a matter of time before the league adjusts to Ramos, and that is foreboding for a Rays team needing every serviceable starter it can get. If nothing else, though, he has found a way to maximize his ability as a starting pitcher for the short-term and may have found the formula to make him more effective when he returns to relief. The breakthrough that Cesar Ramos made was a relatively small one, but the Rays are going to need a series of minor contributions to get through this rough stretch. They can know for sure that Ramos is doing everything he can to help them win games, and they could not ask him for anything more.