MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs don’t know what they’re going to get in Neil Ramirez, the lights-out setup guy from 2014 or the one who struggled to stay healthy during last year’s playoff run.
But the Cubs still see enough upside potential to put Ramirez on their Opening Day roster, hoping he can approximate that dominant rookie season (1.44 ERA) and avoid the injuries (right shoulder inflammation, left abdominal soreness) that limited him to only 14 big-league innings last year.
“I don’t know if the velocity’s going to come all the way back,” manager Joe Maddon admitted on Tuesday at the Sloan Park complex after Ramirez found out he made the team. “But the guy’s got a really good slider/breaking ball/slurve, whatever you want to call it.
“Even though his velocity might not be what it had been, it’s still high velocity. It’s not like it’s 88, 89, 87 (mph). He’s into the low-to-mid 90s on occasion, so there’s plenty of juice there.
“Now throw it where you want to – and then play that slider off of it.”
The Ramirez-is-out-of-minor-league-options angle framed many of the questions as the Cubs began to finalize their 25-man roster. Maddon hadn’t seen the electricity in 2014, when Ramirez made 50 appearances for a last-place team and finished with 53 strikeouts in 43-plus innings.
“(I) heard about all the high numbers he put up on the gun,” Maddon said. “And then all of a sudden it wasn’t there last year. I think his emphasis was on pitching to velocity as opposed to getting hitters out.
“So we just talked more about: ‘Let’s just get the hitter out and not worry about the number.’ And it’s worked out pretty well.”
Ramirez put up a scoreless inning in five of his seven Cactus League appearances and will have to figure out how to do more with less. Maddon – who might be the best in the game at pushing bullpen buttons – will be here to help.
“Sometimes guys like that get caught in the speed-gun trap,” Maddon said. “It’s in every ballpark. You turn around – it’s there. People bring it to your attention constantly. Of course, you want to throw harder.
“But he throws hard enough. Just command what he throws and pop that slider – he’s going to be just fine.”