Making His Way Under the Radar
O's Prospect Ramirez Is 'Sneaky Fast'
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; Page D01
ABERDEEN, Md. -- Luis Ramirez's fastballs do not impress radar guns. Often clocked in the high 80s, the pitches seem destined for the fat part of many a bat.
"And then, Boom!" marveled Jesus Alfaro, one of Ramirez's coaches with the Class A Aberdeen IronBirds. "Then it just explodes."
Alfaro thought back to the first time he saw this fastball -- a pitch that has earned Ramirez a baseball strikeout record, national acclaim and a rapidly expanding tally of strikeout victims.
"How can this guy throw like this?" Alfaro asked in the spring of 2002, more than two years before Ramirez became the first pitcher at any American professional level to strike out 12 consecutive hitters.
Ramirez's fastball is what scouts like to call "sneaky fast" -- an apparent rising movement as it nears the strike zone makes it look 6 or 7 mph faster than radar guns indicate, teammates and opposing coaches said.
Ramirez's emergence in the Orioles' farm system has had similar late movement. He had a suitably discreet baseball beginning, signing with the Orioles as an undrafted free agent in 2000. Baseball America doesn't include the 22-year-old right-hander among the Orioles' top 10 minor league prospects, and the team's media guide swings and misses on his country of origin, listing Curacao instead of Venezuela.
Peggy Rhodes, an IronBirds employee who houses Ramirez and two teammates in her Harford County home, said he's so quiet "you wouldn't even know he's around." Orioles minor league pitching coordinator Dave Schmidt wades into the same adjective pool: "easygoing, quiet, doesn't get excited."
But with that one pitch -- a seemingly modest fastball that suddenly leaps and struts as it reaches the batter's box -- Ramirez has thrust himself into the spotlight, tearing through his short-season Class A opponents during an extraordinary four-week span.
On June 23, his second start of the season, he fanned 12 consecutive Jamestown hitters, a record in major or minor league baseball. Ramirez left after five innings because of pitch count restrictions, departing with 15 strikeouts and instant celebrity.
"He was just in control the whole time, and the ball exploded out of his hand," said Jamestown Manager Benny Castillo. "He's going to be in the big leagues in a couple years -- that's about it."
Suddenly, Ramirez was the prime target of autograph seekers, including an Aberdeen usher who admitted he wasn't supposed to do such things but made an exception this once. Ramirez switched uniform numbers so that Aberdeen team officials could send his hat and game jersey to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His performance was recounted in Sports Illustrated and dozens of national newspapers, and the Orioles named him their minor league pitcher of the month, an honor not normally bestowed upon short-season players.
"We kind of bent our own rules a little bit," said Orioles director of minor league operations Doc Rodgers. "Clearly, he went above and beyond the call of duty."
At Ramirez's next home start, July 3 against New Jersey, he was perfect through five innings. He threw six innings and struck out 11, including seven in a row. One man out of 19 reached base -- on an error.
"He was doing it all," Aberdeen catcher Morgan Clendenin said. "I didn't have to do nothing but put my glove up and put down a sign."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company