Major League Baseball will kick off the 2019 season with its earliest start ever (excluding international openers) as all 30 teams will take the field on March 28. Follow along with Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we count down the days until Opening Day 2019. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 58 days
The Indians quietly brought back one of their heavy lifters from the 2018 bullpen carousel at the end of November when the front office avoided salary arbitration with Neil Ramirez, signing number 58 to a one-year, $1 million deal for the 2019 season.
The fifth-year right-hander out of Virginia Beach and a first round pick in the 2007 draft by the Texas Rangers, Ramirez has logged some mileage on his luggage since reaching the big league stage with the Chicago Cubs in 2014.
After six years of time in the Rangers farm system, Ramirez was sent packing as a player to be named later in a five-player swap that sent starting pitcher Matt Garza from Chicago to Texas for four players (including current Indians non-roster invitee, reliever Justin Grimm) in 2013. He got the call to the show in late April of the next season and put together an impressive season of relief work for the Cubs, posting a 3-3 mark with a 1.44 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP with a 10.9 K/9 rate over the course of 50 games and 43 2/3 innings of work.
The good numbers were hard to replicate, as he was limited to 19 games of action for the Cubs in 2015 and just eight more in 2016 before he was claimed off of waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers. Less than two weeks later, he was on the move again, claimed through the same process from the Brewers by the Minnesota Twins.
Ramirez hit free agency for the first time following the season and signed with the San Francisco Giants, but he spent a little over a month on the west coast before again finding a new home via waiver claim. The Toronto Blue Jays claimed him, but he did not pitch for the parent club and instead found himself a free agent a week and a half later. He signed with the New York Mets and spent a little over two months in their organization and he concluded the season as a member of the Washington Nationals’ farm system.
With some experience and potential, but little recent success, the Indians took a flyer on him, scooping him up as a minor league free agent with a non-roster invitation to spring training in November of 2017.
Ramirez opened the year at Triple-A Columbus after failing to make the Indians’ roster out of spring training. He pitched well for the Clippers through the first month and a half of the season, allowing five runs over 17 2/3 innings (2.55 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, .200 batting average against) with an eye-popping 15.79 strikeouts and 1.53 walks per nine innings averaged.
With the Indians’ relief corps in shambles due to injuries and ineffectiveness (and the role of the previous winter’s free agent Bryan Shaw left unresolved), Ramirez got the call to the Majors to help stop the bleeding in a bloody bullpen mess.
In his first handful of outings, he looked like a perfect fit for the bullpen – in the wrong way – as he matched some of the lackluster efforts provided by the staff by allowing four runs in an inning and one-third over three different appearances against the Houston Astros. But he figured it back out and, from May 28 to July 6, he made 17 straight scoreless appearances, allowing just six hits while walking five with 16 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings of work.
That streak ended when he allowed three runs on three hits while retiring just one batter against Oakland on July 7. He allowed runs in five of his next eight July outings and followed suit in August, when he gave up single runs in four of his seven appearances before landing on the disabled list with lower back spasms. He returned in September and worked in ten more games, but had some command issues along the way to close out the regular season.
The grind of the regular season appeared to show in Ramirez’s numbers for the Tribe. In 25 first half appearances, he posted a 3.00 ERA and a .208 batting average against, striking out 24 and walking six in 85 plate appearances. Over his 22 second half outings, he tallied a 6.10 ERA and a .247 batting average against with 27 strikeouts but 12 walks in 95 plate appearances. For the season, he went 0-3 in 47 games with a 4.54 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, 13 holds, and an 11.0 strikeout per nine rate.
Looking towards the 2019 season, the Indians will be counting on Ramirez to provide some of the high velocity, high strikeout numbers that he has shown himself capable of producing for a bullpen with more question marks than certainties.
“We felt last year was a step forward in his development,” shared Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti with the media on November 30 after the contracts of Ramirez and Danny Salazar were announced. “Hopefully, he’s on the path to being a regular contributor for us. He’s got good stuff and we’ve seen what he’s capable of doing when he’s right and at his best.”
Ramirez moved away from his curveball last year, turning instead to a sinker as part of his pitching repertoire. He relied primarily on a slider, and balanced those two pitches with a four-seamer. The two fastballs averaged 95.3 MPH a season ago, while his slider was just a tick below 86. That slider was his most dominant pitch throughout the season, as he struck out 35 batters with it (a 38.9 K% with a 44.2 whiff%) while holding opposing hitters to a .193 average. The pitch’s effectiveness may have led to career-best marks in both chase percentage (31.0) and whiff percentage (31.2). His sinker and fastball both generated a much lower strikeout total and accounted for two-thirds of the extra base hits that he allowed on the year.
The Indians’ minuscule financial tie to Ramirez allows the team to part ways from him if that sliders fails to baffle hitters or becomes difficult to control. For nearly one-third of the season a year ago, Ramirez showed that he could be a big time contributor, as long as he can stay healthy and in command of his three-pitch arsenal.
The number 58 has been more of a bad omen for its wearers in Cleveland Indians history. Many have worn it, but few have parlayed that time and opportunity into an extended stay, either in an Indians uniform or among the remaining Major League options from which to choose.
Prior to Ramirez, the most recent to take it to the field was T.J. House, a soft-tossing left-hander who impressed with a surprise effort in his debut season in 2014. After his impressive debut that season (5-3 with a 3.35 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 19 games), he became a starting rotation candidate, but a shoulder injury the following season and a crowded staff in 2016 left him trying to crack the 25-man roster as a bullpen option. That failed and, after being designated and outrighted in September, he became a free agent and moved on to the Toronto Blue Jays for 2017 and the Chicago White Sox for parts of the 2018 season.
House was one of just two players to represent the number 58 on the field for the Indians club for more than one season.
Right-handed starter Jeanmar Gomez came up in the number 58 for Cleveland and made his Major League debut at the age of 22. His results were mixed over the course of his three seasons with the Indians from 2010 to 2012 as he failed to latch onto a spot in the starting rotation despite several opportunities. He won 14 games in his three seasons, but put together a 5.18 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP in over 200 innings of work, giving up 10.5 hits and 3.1 walks per nine innings. He was dealt to Pittsburgh in 2013 and eventually transitioned into the role of a reliever, extending his career. He spent five years in Pennsylvania (two with the Pirates and three in Philadelphia including a 37-save season for the Phillies in 2016), brief minor league stints with the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners, and pitched last season out of the Chicago White Sox’s bullpen. The soon-to-be 31-year-old is a non-roster camp invitee with the Texas Rangers for the 2019 spring slate.
Many of the remaining names on the list of 58’s in Indians history are not only pitchers, but hard to remember individuals based on several short stays in the organization. Guys like Juan Lara, Chardon native Andrew Brown, Jason Anderson, Joey Dawley, Heath Murray, and Jamie Brewington all suited up in the digits in the first decade of the 21st century. David Huff hung around the Majors for eight years after spending his first five big league seasons in Cleveland (he spent 2017 pitching in Korea). Steve Farr was the first to wear it in 1984 during his first of two stints in Cleveland that came a decade apart during an eleven-year career.
Only catcher Omir Santos (one game in 2013), outfielder Brian Giles (six games in 1995), and first baseman Jim Wilson (four games in 1985) have worn the number as position players for the club. Giles was the most successful of that latter collection, but his best years for the Tribe came in the number 22.
Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images
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