PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- In his McCoy Stadium debut Thursday night, Anthony Ranaudo hardly blew hitters away. He gave up nine hits in his 5⅔ innings of work, including a triple to lead off the game to speedster Billy Hamilton, who later scored.
Perhaps more significantly, though, that was the only run to score all night against Ranaudo, who found a way to grind through the outing without his best stuff.
"You have to find a way to get outs," Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina said. "I know to give up nine hits, he's probably not happy with that, but he got to five-plus innings, and he did what he's supposed to do."
"He was grinding that whole game today," elaborated catcher Dan Butler, who has been behind the dish for all of Ranaudo’s Triple-A starts. "He made his adjustments as the game went on. His breaking ball got better and it was more down in the zone."
Thursday marked Ranaudo's third start with the PawSox since being promoted from Double-A Portland, with which he had a 2.95 ERA in 19 starts. This one was more of a struggle for him than the first two, though he gave up four runs in the start prior.
"Other than that he didn't have his curveball command tonight, they've all been similar in that his first inning is up with his fastball, and as he progresses it comes down in the zone," DiSarcina said. "And that's really his out pitch -- the fastball down, especially to lefties down and away. He threw a couple good ones tonight to get some guys out with, but it was inconsistent. His first two outings were very similar. Out of all of his outings, I thought tonight was maybe the one he could have been more consistent."
The curveball command and effectiveness went in and out throughout the game for the 2010 first-round draft pick. Ranaudo said that he was feeling the pitch well in the bullpen before the game, then threw some OK ones in the first and second before losing it completely in the middle innings. However, DiSarcina said the most impressive part of the outing was that Ranaudo kept trying to throw it and didn't give up, and it paid off as the pitcher felt he threw his best breaking balls in the final two innings.
"I felt like I made some really good adjustments and bounced back with [the curveball]," Ranaudo said.
Though his first start with the team was statistically the best one so far -- he went six scoreless innings with more strikeouts (five) than hits and walks allowed (four) -- Ranaudo feels like he is beginning to understand the differences in facing Triple-A hitters and adapting.
"[The hitters here are] not going to bail you out too often," he said. "Like in the stretch of the game tonight where I didn't have my curveball, you could tell that they weren't going to swing at any curveballs. They were just going to wait for me to throw the fastball, and that's it. And they swung at it when I did [throw it], and they made some good contact on it throughout the game."
Before earning the promotion to Pawtucket, Ranaudo had dominated for most of the season in Double-A Portland, a far cry from his disastrous 2012 season with the Sea Dogs. After pitching just 37⅔ innings last season due to multiple injuries, he repeated the level to begin the season. But after a trip to the Futures Game and Double-A All-Star Game, it's safe to say this has been a bounce-back season for him.
"Overall, the first thing is my health," the 23-year-old righty said about the differences for him this season. "I'm not dealing with nagging injuries or any little things in between starts. Now I can focus on in-game situations. Like tonight, when I had a guy on third with less than two outs, I know what I have to do and what pitches I have to make, and I can do them aggressively without having to worry about anything else.
"The command of my fastball is back. The life on my fastball is back. And being able to throw the curveball for strikes as an out pitch has been key, too."
Though he feels the command of his fastball has been a strength for him this season, in his outing Thursday it lacked the typical low-to-mid 90s velocity it has at its best, sitting more in the 89-91 mph range. Having already pitched close to 100 more innings this season than last, it is natural to wonder if the tall righty is beginning to feel fatigued.
"Honestly, I feel really good out there. When I have the ball in my hand every fifth day, I feel strong," he said.
"I've tried not to pay attention to it the last month, but I think my velocity might have ticked down a little bit from where it was at the beginning of the year," he continued. "But coming off of 35 innings or whatever it was last year, I think that's understandable. Even though my velocity might be dropping right now a little bit, I think my command's picked up. I feel so much more confident being able to throw the ball where I want right now. I'm out there pitching right now: throwing all my pitches, mixing speeds and using my location to my advantage."
Although it seems unlikely that Ranaudo will make it to the majors this season, he knows he's just one stop away. Next season, he will likely start with Pawtucket again, but if he continues to perform as he did in Portland for most of this summer, Boston will soon want to find a spot for him on its roster.