When it comes down to afternoon weekend baseball, this past Saturday at Fenway was about all that you could ask for. Perfect weather and a great show of the grand game as the Sea Dogs were triumphant in their return to the Futures at Fenway showcase.
I was grateful to be able to do some work for both the Globe and MiLB.com and you can recap the day’s events by checking out the following links:
I also had the pleasure of speaking at length with both Noe Ramirez and Keith Couch, two guys who have had to undergo some adjustments this season with regards to their roles as pitchers, but both of whom are thriving in the midst of adjustments.
For Ramirez, it was about becoming a reliever after making 16 starts in his pro debut last season with Greenville.
The Cal-State Fullerton product had also started 42 games over three college seasons, but the change to a full-time reliever was welcomed by the 6-foot-3 righty.
“I’ve been a starter my entire life,” said Ramirez. “I’m really comfortable. I like being a reliever.”
Looking at it as a way to better position himself for a quicker rise through the system, Ramirez was also able to find some new life in his slider that has added another dimension to an already deceptive throwing motion.
“I’ve worked hard at it and I feel comfortable throwing it in any count to a righty or lefty,” said Ramirez, who made the jump from High-A Salem to Portland at the end of June. “The difference here in Double-A is that you have to commit 100% to every single pitch. It’s good that I have that slider in my arsenal now that I can throw it whenever I want.”
In 28 relief appearances between Salem and Portland this season Ramirez is 2-1 with a 2.26 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and an 8.6 strikeouts-per-nine-inning average.
Couch found himself in a similar situation at the beginning of the year after having made 51 starts in his first three season of professional baseball.
Starting the season with a Portland Sea Dogs team that had a stacked rotation of prospects, Couch bided his time in the bullpen, going 3-2 with a 4.78 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 40 appearances.
When some of those original starters worked their way up the ranks, Couch seized his opportunity to get back into the rotation and in his ten starts since he has gone 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA.
During his impressive performance at Fenway on Saturday – 7 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 2 ER, 3 Ks – he may have proven to be more valuable as an innings eating horse in the rotation.
“I thought last year I had a great year as a starter (11-9, 3.46 ERA with Salem), but if being a reliever is going to get me to the big leagues then I’m all for it,” said Couch. “I like being a starter because I can get my innings in. That’s the biggest thing.
“As a reliever I would go out there and throw an inning or two and I’d be like, “That’s it, I’m done?” Then I got to wait like five or six days [before I might pitch again]. Whereas now I get to go deep in the games and I know every fifth day I’ll be out there."
And deep into the games he has gone, throwing at least 5 innings in all but one of his starts and logging 94 2/3 total frames this year, 11th most in the whole Sox organization.
As the season has progressed, both Ramirez and Couch have put themselves in solid positions within the organization, in part because of their willingness to accept their assignments without contempt.
“I’m having fun,” said Ramirez. “I’m playing a game that I love, and getting paid for it.”
Both pitchers could factor into the Arizona Fall League discussion for the Red Sox as the season draws near a close, with sustained results to the finish line surely adding to their chances.
“No plans at this point,” said Ben Crockett, Boston’s Director of Player Development about initial thoughts on who might be sent to Arizona. “We’ll start kind of diving into that stuff after the trade deadline.”
THE BIG NO SHOW
You know a Single-A pitcher is doing damn good when you start seeing his name pop up in local print articles and sports talk show callers are already dubbing him an “untouchable.”
Thus has been the case with Henry Owens, the 21-year-old Salem left-hander who strung together two remarkable streaks which both came to end on Sunday night.
Let’s take a look at what young Henry accomplished.
Hitless innings streak - 19 1/3
• Started on July 11th, ended on July 28th, spanning four starts.
• Myrtle Beach’s Pat Cantwell had the last hit prior to the streak, a single in the top of the third inning on July 11th.
• On July 17th and 22nd starts he threw a combined 11 no-hit innings with 19 strikeouts.
• His 6 innings of no-hit ball against Frederick on the 17th were part of a three-pitcher no-hitter, the first in Salem Red Sox history.
• Potomac’s Cutter Dykstra ended the streak with a two-out, fourth inning single on Sunday.
• Owens faced 70 batters without giving up a hit.
Scoreless innings streak – 24 2/3
• Started on July 11th, ended on July 28th, spanning four of Owens’ five July starts.
• Had 12 scoreless innings versus Potomac in back-to-back starts before allowing 4 earned runs in the eighth inning of Sunday's game.
• Worked out of 15 innings in which he had guys on base.
Owens finished July at 2-2 with a 2.96 ERA and a .141 opponent batting average after allowing just 13 hits while striking out 33 batters in 27 1/3 innings.
IN THE HUNT
As we near the last full month of the season, it’s a good time to see who might be in position to extend things past the first week of September.
The defending Governors’ Cup Champion Pawtucket Red Sox have put themselves in position to repeat last year's run as they stand atop the I.L. North with a 58-50 mark.
However, the Rochester Red Wings have rocketed into the race, sitting in a virtual tie for first with the PawSox, just a mere .001 percentage point behind as Pawtucket has fumbled through a 8-17 July.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a .500 team that was 12 ½ games back and still in it, but the Portland Sea Dogs are just that as they sit just one game behind second place Trenton in the E.L. Eastern Division.
The top two teams in each division make the playoffs, and thanks to an 8-2 run in their last ten games, the Sea Dogs have their eyes on their first playoff appearance since 2008.
High-A Salem is five games back in third place in the Carolina League’s Southern Division, currently playing .500 ball (18-18) in the second half of the season.
Low-A Greenville is in a similar situation, sitting four back in the SAL South at 18-16 in the second half.
Both of those teams will need to win their divisions in the second half to make the playoffs.
In Short Season Lowell the Spinners are currently sitting pretty in the Wild Card spot as they hope for some postseason fun for the first time since 2009.
At 22-17 they have a two game lead for the Wild Card, but they are also only three back of Tri-City in the Stedler Division of the NYPL.
In the Rookie Leagues both the Gulf Coast and Dominican Summer League Red Sox stand atop their divisions.
BALL TO DEBUT
Trey Ball, the Red Sox No. 1 Draft pick (No. 7 overall) from this past June's Draft, is set to make his debut this afternoon with the Gulf Coast Red Sox.
We'll let you know how Ball fared in his debut with 'The Cap on Monday' later tonight, but for a primer check out this great piece by Ryan Hannable about the bond between Ball and his step-brother.
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