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Neil Ramirez as the next best thing

The Indains have popped out a relief star every year the last few decades. Is Ramirez that man?

MLB: Cleveland Indians-Media Day Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday night the Cleveland Indians once again farted on their own pillow.

Eight runs should always be enough to win a game. But that bullpen man, it’s like they want everything to be more exciting, or they hate the starters or something. It’s incredible. But amid the myriad messes there was one man who actually pitched a clean inning, and then some. Neil Ramirez made his debut, and memories of recent seasons past arose, unbidden. For better or probably worse, hope shimmered.

It was an impressive outing, especially with how the rest of the bullpen pitched. Ramirez caused four outs with one strikeout on 15 pitches. He showed his two-seamer and slider to decent effect, and his tapping 96 mph with movement on the fastball was intriguing to say the least. That combined with the vertical bite of the slider, makes for, well, something. Maybe something good.

He looked something just short of nasty, and that’s what’s missing from the Indians pen this year. That guy from nowhere that is so suddenly dominant. From Jeff Manship to Scott Atchison to a previous incarnation of Dan Otero, someone has come out and been that other face that has crushed hopes on days that Miller or Shaw or Allen were unavailable.

Maybe that could be Ramirez. He’s certainly not the kind of pitcher that blows you away with his stats of course. He owns a 4.17 ERA for his career, spanning five years and 114 innings, and he’s struck out 27.5 percent of hitters he’s faced. He’s also walked 12.4 percent, and his ground ball rate is a mere 29 percent. That last in particular is a bit odd for a guy who features a two-seam fastball and slider, two pitches you usually expect would force more grounders. Though last night’s pitch map could be a microcosm of why that’s so:

That’s just a lot of balls up in the middle of the zone, not down where two-seamers usually make their best work. He got lucky on a line drive for an out from Mikie Mahtook and gave too many chances. He was lucky to face such a bad lineup. But the raw stuff — strikeouts and big velocity and some solid movement — are there for the Indians to make for a nice reliever. Which they’ve done in the past. But is a key part of it all missing?

Meaning, of course, Mickey Callaway.

The new Mets manager has been one of the constants as Terry Francona and his staff have found those diamonds in the rough. It had become a matter of course. But he’s gone. I can’t just say that one man can have that much influence on the entire pitching staff, there’s a whole organizational structure that brought us Corey Kluber and the rest of the rotation. Callaway certainly helped, but he wasn’t the end all, be all. Fixing one guy though, finding the one or two things that could make a pitcher suddenly crack his own code and become dominant for a year or two, that does make sense that he could be the main influencer of that. And now he’s gone. Is that assured diamond in the rough gone too?

This isn’t to disrespect Carl Willis. He’s probably a fine pitching coach who knows a lot, but he’s not the one who has a whole mythology surrounding him, who turned his Midas Touch on pitchers into a managerial gig. And it’s not like the Indians of the mid-2000’s exactly had studs across the bullpen. They never did what Callaway’s staffs pulled off. Francona likes him, but whether that’s about him liking cribbage or his coaching prowess is a very real question to ask.

Ramirez throws hard, which is more than we can say for Nick Goody, Tyler Olson, or any of the faceless rando’s that have drifted through the bullpen already this year. It hasn’t been enough to turn him into a a great reliever yet, but there’s always the chance it finally clicks. The way the ‘pen is pitching, the only thing you can do is hope it does happen. Everything has gone wrong so far, something has to break the other way.