May 13, 2013 at 8:00 AM
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – A healthy and confident Anthony Ranaudo used his mid-90s fastball to continue his torrid start to the 2013 season on Sunday, tossing six innings of three-hit, shutout ball in Portland’s 3-2 win over New Britain.
Ranaudo kept his fastball, which sat 92-95 mph and reached 96 mph, in the lower half of the zone to keep the Rock Cats at bay and secure his fifth win and third scoreless outing of the season.
“Anthony’s done a really nice job of kind of establishing a game and getting good starts with his fastball,” Portland pitching coach Bob Kipper said. “His success on the mound is driven by his ability to command the strike zone with his fastball.”
Ranaudo walked leadoff batter Danny Santana on five pitches to start the game, but worked through the inning unscathed by keeping his 93-95 mph fastball down in the zone. In the second, Ranaudo introduced his curveball into the mix with a series of three breaking balls, each getting tighter in rotation and the third buried in the dirt for a swinging strike three.
After the leadoff walk in the first, Ranaudo retired the next eight batters before a two-out, third inning single by Santana. The right-hander gave up a pair of one-out singles in the fourth, but worked around those baserunners with a strikeout on an 87 mph changeup and a groundout.
A leadoff walk in the fifth brought Ranaudo out of the stretch again, but he fanned a pair on arm-side curveballs to right-handers to get out of the inning, and he worked around a two-out walk in the sixth to keep the shutout intact.
Ranaudo’s fastball carried him through much of the outing—he only truly mixed in his curveball and changeup during his second time through the lineup—but it was the command of that pitch that allowed him to lean on it.
“Commanding the fastball is the beginning of all pitching, so being able to do that is obviously the first step to success,” Ranaudo said. “Knowing where it’s going, knowing it’s been a good pitch is a big confidence boost for you.”
“It’s fastball command, it’s his ability to control the bottom half of the strike zone more frequently with an explosive fastball,” Kipper said.
Ranaudo showed an ability to throw his breaking ball both early in the count for strikes and late in the count as a strikeout pitch, but he threw just a handful of changeups in the outing.
Overall, manager Kevin Boles said he has seen a different pitcher this season than during Ranaudo’s injury-plagued 2012 campaign. Ranaudo was the talk of spring training that year before a groin pull stunted his progress, and he ultimately threw just 37 2/3 innings with Portland before he was shut down for the season.
“Last year was a mulligan,” Boles said. “Don’t even look at last year. He was just never right, and I think it was playing catch-up.”
Boles said the injuries, both to Ranaudo’s groin and lower back, kept him from finishing and repeating his delivery and meant his fastball stayed up in the zone.
“He was compensating in his delivery to try to get that done, and he just couldn’t get it right,” Boles said. “Technically, he just wasn’t there. This is a completely different guy. The guy you saw last year is just not it. This is it. We’re lucky to have this one.”
Photo Credit: Anthony Ranaudo by Kelly O'Connor
Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.