PEORIA, Ariz. — Erasmo Ramirez knows he’s in no-man’s land as he prepares for his spring debut Friday when the Mariners make the short drive to Glendale to play the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ramirez is out of options — which means he can’t be sent back to the minors unless he clears waivers — but he faces long odds in his bid to win a roster spot.
“I know the only way to stay with the Mariners is to clear waivers,” Ramirez said. “But I can’t worry about that.
“I’m just worried about staying healthy and doing what I need to do: Just keep the ball down and throw strikes…and wait for news.”
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Ramirez ranks, at best, seventh in line for a spot in the five-man rotation behind (not necessarily in this order) Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias.
At many clubs, Ramirez might find duty, perhaps temporarily, as a long reliever. But the Mariners have Tom Wilhelmsen in that role, which leaves no apparent space for Ramirez in what projects as a seven-man unit.
“We’ve got some talented arms in that bullpen,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “The competition might even be stiffer down there (than in the rotation).”
Even so, the Mariners aren’t yet willing to simply jettison Ramirez, who is still just 24 and not likely to be likely to gain eligibility for arbitration for two more seasons.
The Mariners could try to slip him through waivers, but a quick canvass of officials from rival clubs suggest Ramirez is unlikely to go unclaimed largely because of his limited cost liability.
A trade is possible, but as one rival front-office official noted, “How much are you going to give up for a guy who is likely to be on waivers in a few weeks?”
Ramirez was a major disappointment a year ago when he failed to win a big-league game after beating the Angels on April 1. He finished 1-6 with a 5.26 ERA in 17 games and spent much of the summer at Triple-A Tacoma.
Looking back, he now says: “I just got excited too much. The first few innings, usually, I’d be good. Then I’d get excited and try to do more. You can’t do that. Most of the time, it was just one inning that hurt me.
“In those innings, I’d try to throw my breaking ball to be perfect, and that was a big mistake. A lot of times, it was just one pitch.”
That one pitch, too often, resulted in a home run.
Ramirez gave up 13 homers last year in 75 1/3 big-league innings, which continued a career-long trend: 31 in 206 2/3 innings over his three big-league seasons.
“And that homer always seemed to mean three runs,” he said. “It always happened with guys on base. That was the difference between a good game and a bad game, a good day and a bad day.”
Ramirez showed signs of a turnaround late last year by going 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his last five games at Tacoma. Then came an eye-popping winter in Venezuela: One earned run in 30 innings.
“He threw very well,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “The thing that’s changed is that’s what he looked like a couple of years ago compared to how he looked the last two years. That was the change.”
Ramirez points to a simple difference: He kept the ball down.
“I didn’t adjust anything,” he said. “I used the same pitches. I just kept them down. That’s it. There were a lot of good plays behind me. When you keep the ball inside the park, those plays are going to happen.
“That’s what I was able to do this winter — keep the ball in the park and down in the zone. Execute instead of just throw.”
What comes next depends, largely, on how Ramirez performs this spring.
“Let’s see what the decision the Mariners make,” he said. “They have the last word. What I have to do is to be my best. That’s all I can control right now.”
CHOI UNDERGOES SURGERY, IS DFA’D
It’s been a tough two days for first baseman Ji-Man Choi.
The Mariners designated Choi for assignment Thursday shortly after he underwent surgery to repair a broken right leg, which he suffered on a play in Wednesday’s 4-3 victory over San Diego in 10 innings.
The move came after Texas returned left-handed reliever Edgar Olmos to the Mariners when Major League Baseball voided the Rangers’ waiver claim after an examination revealed Olmos had a shoulder injury.
The voided waiver claim forced the Mariners to find an opening for Olmos on their 40-man roster. By designating Choi for assignment, the club now has 10 days to trade him, release him or send him through waivers.
The likely course is the Mariners will send Choi through waivers with a notice to other clubs that he is injured and unlikely to play for four-to-six months.
If Choi goes unclaimed, he could then be sent to the minors on an outright assignment — probably to Tacoma — to begin his recovery. The Mariners are responsible for his medical expenses even if choose to release him.
Choi, 23, underwent surgery to repair a fractured fibula in his right leg and a torn deltoid ligament. He suffered the injury when he landed awkwardly after leaping to catch an errant throw from shortstop Tyler Smith.
The play came with two outs in the ninth inning and permitted the Padres to score the tying run on the play as Choi collapsed to the ground in pain. After an examination, he was carted from the field.
The Mariners rallied for a walk-off victory in 10 innings.
Choi is a native of South Korea who spent most of last season at Triple-A Tacoma, where he batted .283 with five homers and 30 RBIs in 70 games. He also served a 50-game suspension for a drug violation.
Olmos, 24, was claimed Feb. 24 by Texas after being designated for assignment by the Mariners on Feb. 13 before arriving in spring camp. The shoulder injury surfaced wen Olmos underwent an exam by the Rangers.
Texas then sought to void the claim, which MLB approved.
The Mariners acquired Olmos in a Nov. 20 waiver claim from Miami. He was 3-3 with three saves and a 4.06 ERA last season in 51 games at Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans..
The Mariners declined comment on a Venezuelan report saying they plan to close their academy in that country due to growing social and political unrest.
The report said academy officials are having difficulty obtaining sufficient food to feed players.
The Mariners are one of just five clubs that still operate franchises in the Venezuelan Summer League. The report quotes unidentified VSL officials saying they fear for the league’s survival.
Current Mariners who spent time at the club’s Venezuelan complex include pitchers Yoervis Medina, Erasmo Ramirez and Mayckol Guaipe.
Third baseman Kyle Seager expressed gratitude to the public for its ongoing support to his efforts to raise funds to fight childhood cancer in a coordinated campaign with the Vs. Cancer Foundation.
The program seeks pledge amounts on www.seagervscancer.org that are tied to the number of hits that Seager gets in the upcoming season. He vowed to matched the financial commitment of the first 100 participants.
“It’s been going really well,” he said. “It’s day three and, last I checked, we were already just $4,000 away from the goal (of $30,000). It’s been exploding way faster than we could have hoped for.
“That’s just a testament to the fans that we have. Good people.”
It’s no surprise, but the Angels confirmed plans to start right-hander Jered Weaver against the Mariners on April 6 in the season opener at Safeco Field…Felix Hernandez, who will start the opener for the Mariners, is tentatively scheduled to throw one more session of live batting practice before making his spring debut.