Yefry Ramírez celebrated his 25th birthday last week in the Dominican Republic by making it a typical day in his offseason life. Lots of sweat. A sharpened focus on his conditioning. And all of it done with the same infectious smile.
A hunk of cake, with its sugary temptations, came with a slice of guilt.
Save the rose for someone else.
Ramírez dived into a new program as soon as he returned home following his rookie season with the Orioles, when he made 12 starts among his 17 appearances and registered a 5.92 ERA and 1.531 WHIP in 65 1/3 innings.
“I’m emphasizing my body and I’m also working on improving my pitching mechanics,” Ramírez said via translator Ramón Alarcón. “It’s a little bit different than previous programs that I’ve done in the offseason. I’m trying to improve certain aspects of my body and also my pitching mechanics. I’m working with Ramón Martinez down here in the D.R. and I’m just trying to improve overall.”
It’s gotten serious. Ramírez hired a personal trainer rather than create his own set of workouts with no idea whether he was doing them in the proper manner or if they were going to benefit him.
Leave it to the experts.
“What I’m trying to accomplish here is the strengthening overall of my body. My legs, my upper body, my core,” said Ramírez, who has been letting his Instagram followers track his progress with the occasional photographs.
“Also, in addition to that, I’m working on my pitching mechanics, trying to improve my slider and my curveball.”
Ramírez threw his four-seam fastball 46 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com, followed by his changeup (25.8 percent), slider (21.7 percent), sinker (5.3 percent) and curveball (1.1 percent). The changeup actually rates as a plus-pitch for Ramírez, but he hasn’t found any consistency with the slider and barely uses the curveball.
He can miss bats, a skill that’s lacking on the pitching staff, and he should vie for a rotation spot next season. Barring any trades, the only true incumbents are Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner.
“The goal is for me to arrive to spring training and compete for a rotation spot,” Ramírez said. “I want to be ready mentally and physically and that is the main reason why I decided not to pitch in winter league and just prepare my body for the next season.”
Ramírez made his major league debut on June 13 in a start against the Red Sox at Camden Yards, allowing three runs and four hits with six strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. The Orioles optioned Ramírez two days later, recalled him on June 28, when he tossed five scoreless relief innings against the Mariners and threw only 52 pitches, and optioned him the next day.
The shuttle stayed in motion, though not to Donnie Hart proportions. He was recalled twice in July and finally stuck with the team, holding the Astros to three runs over six innings in his final appearance in the second game of a Sept. 29 doubleheader.
It became exhausting for Ramírez to hold down his pitch counts. Ninety-two and 98 in back-to-back five-inning starts in late July. Sixty-nine in 1 2/3 innings in an Aug. 5 start in Texas. Eighty-four in three innings later that month in Cleveland. Ninety and 107 pitches over 3 2/3 and six innings, respectively, in his last two starts to close out his rookie campaign.
“With this experience in the big leagues, I learned a lot,” he said. “I learned how to better prepare myself for the games, how to attack the hitters, how to exploit their weakness, how to use my strength. I’ve noticed such a big difference between the minor leagues and the major leagues. I just learned so much on how to become a better pitcher.”
Getting Ramírez from the Yankees at the 2017 non-waiver deadline for international bonus pool money could turn into one of former executive vice president Dan Duquette’s finest moves. It also spoke to the pitching depth in the Yankees farm system.
Ramírez was 10-3 with a 3.41 ERA in 18 starts with Double-A Trenton before the trade and went 5-0 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.188 WHIP in six starts with Double-A Bowie.
Duquette is gone. So is manager Buck Showalter, who seemed to like Ramírez and kept noting the right-hander’s success at every level. Everyone on the club is impacted to some degree.
“More or less, I was expecting that there was a change coming, primarily because of the season we had,” Ramírez said.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best season for us. I feel bad because of the teammates that I’ve lost, the manager that I’ve lost, the coaches. I pay attention to the changes that the organization has gone through. But at the same time, what I can control is to prepare myself. Try to be in the best shape possible so that when spring training starts, I’ll be ready to compete for a spot.”
Note: Former Oriole Pedro Álvarez has signed a minor league deal with the Marlins.
A streak has ended for Álvarez, who signed with the Orioles on March 10, 2016, March 13, 2017 and Feb. 26, 2018. Another reunion wasn’t in the works.