In a month’s time, Orioles right-hander Yefry Ramírez has gone from one of the team’s lone bright spots to yet another riddle they’ll have to solve before the club’s season ends in six weeks, hopefully with a better stock of what they have in so much of their unproven talent.
Another feeble offensive performance played an equal part, but Ramírez’s regression since the All-Star break certainly didn’t help. After five innings of two-hit, shutout ball July 14 to send himself into the break with a 3.09 ERA, Ramírez (1-5) has more than doubled that to 6.49 in a month’s worth of starts since.
“This guy, he’s got some good intangibles I like about him,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s just, they’re having to learn on the job. It’s tough.”
This time, Ramírez allowed seven runs on seven hits without recording an out in the fourth inning — and it looked as if his start would end badly from the beginning.
His second pitch of the game was a 91 mph fastball off leadoff man Greg Allen’s leg, and Allen promptly stole second base and scored on a double by Yandy Díaz three batters later. Jason Kipnis singled to open the second inning and scored when Allen singled, and though they were the only two runs early, Cleveland was always threatening. Ramírez stranded two in each inning, and walked two without allowing a run in the third inning.
He didn’t escape the fourth, though. No. 9 hitter Erik González singled, and so did Allen before Michael Brantley made it 3-0 with a double. Ramírez fell behind 3-0 to José Ramírez before the Orioles intentionally walked him. Ramírez unintentionally walked Díaz to push home the fourth run and bring in reliever Sean Gilmartin.
After recording a quick strikeout, Gilmartin allowed a grand slam to Melky Cabrera, and the final 8-0 margin was set.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to command my pitches today,” Ramírez said via team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “I wasn't able to attack the zone today, attack the hitters, to make quality pitches and to execute my pitches.”
Ramírez battled his control throughout Sunday’s outing, and didn’t help himself on the mental side of the game, either. On González’s single to open that big fourth inning, Ramírez hesitated before going over to cover first base on a ground ball to a diving Chris Davis, and the runner narrowly beat him to the base.
Showalter said that with young pitchers like Ramírez, the difference in what you see during their bullpen sessions and what happens once games begin can be vast. He mentioned the team's efforts to have Ramírez control the running game better, as well as details like first-base coverage, as real-time improvements playing out in competitive games.
“You’ve got to self-correct sometimes, but the game speeds up up here,” Showalter said.
Ramírez’s quick reversal of fortunes has taken away some from his quick start in his major league career. With an effective low-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss changeup that serves as his best major league pitch, Ramírez needs to get into a rhythm and be in a position to dictate the game by pitching backwards.
“I think consistency is what I'm looking for: to go after the hitters, attack the zone and be ahead in the count,” Ramírez said.
He’s struggled to do that of late, and as much as the Orioles will want to give him opportunities down the stretch to figure out what he is going forward, Ramírez is at 115 total innings, and his career high is 124 1/3 in each of the past two years.
Of course, he was only responsible for half of the headache that was Sunday’s game. The Orioles got their leadoff man on in six of the nine innings but didn’t push a run across, shut out for the 11th time this season.
Jonathan Villar was picked off first base with runners on the corners and one out in the first inning, effectively drowning that threat, and they left two on in the second inning as well before Mike Clevinger settled in and dealt six scoreless innings.
Rookie Cedric Mullins had a pair of hits and a walk to pace the Orioles, while Davis also had a single and a double.