While an overhwhelming majority of clubs are negotiating unsteady bullpens, the Boston Red Sox remain rock solid in part because of an under-the-radar trade they completed last November.
Right-hander Ramon Ramirez, acquired from the Royals for outfielder Coco Crisp, was not exactly a household name. Few middle relievers are, especially those in Kansas City. But Ramirez has been lights-out for Boston this season, going 4-0 so far with an 0.52 ERA (tied for third among AL relievers). He also ranks tied for third in the AL with five holds.
He's certainly not the only reason Boston's bullpen is fourth in the majors with a 3.20 ERA. There's still this closer named Jonathan Papelbon (a perfect nine-for-nine in save opportunities) and, as manager Terry Francona quickly reminds when you ask about Ramirez, "It's our whole bullpen. Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen. ... some things about our club are going to be later -- David (Ortiz, coming out of his power slump, and John Smoltz, who isn't expected to join the rotation for a few more weeks). But our whole bullpen has been good every night."
It has, and Ramirez has helped make a unit that ranked seventh in the majors last season with a 4.00 ERA even better. He's surrendered just one run over 16 1/3 innings this season, and opponents are hitting only .127 against him (right-handers .118, lefties .143).
"His physical ability, his demeanor and his ability to pitch late in games have really been weapons for us," Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell says. "You look at his track record, his numbers outside of Colorado for his career ... his ERA is below 2.00.
"What he's doing this year is not bursting out (of the norm). He's got quite a bit of sample size."
Ramirez came highly recommended to the Sox by David Howard, a special assistant to general manager Theo Epstein. Howard, a former big leaguer with the Royals and Cardinals, still lives in the Kansas City area and, among other things, thought that Ramirez had a demeanor that would serve him well in a high-pressure market like Boston.
The Sox especially like that he has the stuff to regularly obtain swings-and-misses in the late innings, thus increasing the odds of obtaining outs and limiting the potential for damage.
"You can't say enough about his work ethic and preparation," Farrell says. "He's prepared to pitch every day. He takes care of himself as well as anyone we have."
Boston's biggest issue with Ramirez from here on out is going to be to monitor his workload and not overuse him.
Likes: Boston's Daniel Bard, who impressed legions of scouts this spring, looked really good in his major-league debut Wednesday night in Anaheim. He was sensational against Mike Napoli, the first batter he faced and one of the Angels' hottest hitters. Bard got three swings and missed on fastballs of 94, 95 and 97 miles an hour. Napoli never had a chance. This kid is going to be a key pitcher for Boston, probably sooner rather than later. ... The new Green Day song, Know Your Enemy. Good reviews on the new disc, 21st Century Breakdown, so far. I've still got American Idiot heavy in my iPod gym rotation. Great workout music.
Dislikes: Umpire Paul Schrieber did apologize for placing his hand on Detroit's Magglio Ordonez in Wednesday's Tigers-Twins game in Minnesota. But I don't see how he cannot be suspended. If a manager or player touches an umpire, it's an automatic suspension. Don't ever touch the umpire -- it's one of the game's cardinal rules. Rightfully so. Conversely, an umpire can't touch a player. That could cause holy hell if the situation got heated enough. Gotta be a suspension then, right? ... Fleetwood Mac touring under the name Fleetwood Mac. Christine McVie has retired. I'm sorry, but if she's not around and not singing Don't Stop, Say You Love Me and Over My Head, it's not Fleetwood Mac.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"You've been telling everybody
"You're just plain in luck
"My wife cooked me neck bones and beans
"And she cooked you chicken and duck
"That's why I don't want you hanging 'round my wife no more
"That's why I'm telling you somebody sure has gotta go."
-- Big Bill Broonzy, Somebody's Gotta Go