Tigers lefty Nick Ramirez tries to stay positive despite being dry-docked in Toledo
Minneapolis — Let’s say a situation arises Saturday night where the game is close in the middle innings and due up for the Twins is a run of lefties or switch-hitters — a situation that calls for a left-handed pitcher.
What are manager Ron Gardenhire’s options? He doesn’t want to burn closer Gregory Soto that early. The other two lefties in the bullpen — Tyler Alexander and Daniel Norris — just had extended outings. Alexander threw 59 pitches Friday and Norris threw 61 on short rest Wednesday.
His best option is sitting in the clubhouse, feet up on a recliner, watching the game on television. Lefty Nick Ramirez, who pitched a bullpen-high 79⅔ innings last season, is with the team but he isn’t. He’s on the taxi squad.
For a variety of reasons, some more clear than others, Ramirez was designated for assignment after last season and is not on the 40-man roster. He signed back with the club as a non-roster invitee and was one of the best relievers both in Lakeland and in summer camp.
But, he did not make the initial 30-man active roster — the Tigers opting not to drop a player off the 40-man roster to add him.
“They told me it was about the roster and also they mentioned it was about depth — which I didn’t understand,” Ramirez said. “I think mostly it had to do with roster control.”
To be fair, taking a chance on bringing up Kyle Funkhouser worked out. But the call-ups of Beau Burrows and Anthony Castro didn’t fare as well. David McKay, who made the team out of camp, and the subsequent acquisition of Carson Fulmer, all on the 40-man roster -- faltered, as well.
Ramirez just kept his head down at Toledo and kept working.
“It’s tough, it’s definitely tough,” Ramirez said. “I don’t think it’s ideal whatsoever. It’s just one more of these hurdles in my career to where I’ve really had to earn everything. It’s one of those things. It is disappointing but at the same time, I’m doing anything and everything I can to get back here.”
He’s not been wasting his time at Toledo. He’s worked to sharpen his slider, to go along with the elite change-up that got him to the big leagues in the first place.
“Every single day I’m trying to figure out how to make myself better,” Ramirez said. “When I stepped into the big leagues, I had a very good change-up. But if I can develop something new that I can play off the change-up and I don’t have to rely on the change-up so much, that’s going to make me better in the long run.”
He’s showcased the slider for pitching coach Rick Anderson and bullpen coach Jeff Pico while he’s been on this two-city trip.
“They both said they can tell a difference,” he said. “It way better than it was last year.”
Ramirez would have loved to show it off in Milwaukee. He spent the first eight years of his pro career in the Brewers system, the first six as a first baseman before transitioning to pitcher.
“Oh man I wish I could’ve played against those guys,” he said. “Especially seeing all of my buddies I pretty much grew up with in pro baseball. Two or three of those guys were in my wedding. It was fun to see them again, especially on a big-league field for once.”
Ramirez has been able to keep his mind positive, for the most part. His 6-month-old son Reece certainly helps in that regard.
“He’s getting big,” Ramirez said. “Just had his check-up and he’s 27.5 inches and 18 pounds. He’s like in the 75th percentile, so mama lucked out, he’s going to be tall.”
Ramirez is still holding out hope that he will be able to contribute down the stretch for the Tigers. Gardenhire is, too.
“We love Nick,” he said. “He was an iron man for us last year. He’s here with us now and I look at this bullpen and I wish he were in it. But we’ve got a bullpen that’s throwing really good and he’s here for insurance right now. We will see how it goes down the way.
“We appreciate Nick, the whole organization does. That’s why we brought him up in the taxi squad to hang with us. He’s done everything down there and he’s in great shape. If something happens, he’s a guy we will definitely talk about adding.”