SoxProspects: Ranaudo shows promise, shortcomings

In a tough three-inning start Wednesday night in Bowie, Portland right-hander Anthony Ranaudo demonstrated both why he was considered one of the top college pitchers of his class and how far he has to go before fulfilling his big-league potential.

“I feel like I’ve been putting together some good strings of innings,” Ranaudo said after allowing four earned runs in three innings of Portland’s 7-0 loss. “It’s just a matter of putting it together for longer periods of time, being more consistent with it, and being able to keep going when I’m pitching well.

“Whether it’s two outs in an inning or three innings out of a six-inning start, whatever it is, I just need to make sure I close innings out and do a better job of that.”

In the first two innings Wednesday, Ranaudo was every bit the pitcher who Boston paid $2.55 million out of LSU. Ranaudo stayed on top of his fastball and commanded it low in the zone, and showed confidence in his off-speed pitches in all counts.

For example, Ranaudo brought the count to 0-2 with a pair of fastballs at the knees to leadoff batter Antoan Richardson, who worked the count full before looking at a 92-m.p.h. fastball on the inside corner for strike three. Left fielder Buck Britton grounded a 94-m.p.h. fastball to shortstop Ryan Dent for the second out of the inning, and Ranaudo picked up his second strikeout of the game when first baseman Rhyne Hughes fanned on a sharp 1-2 curveball in the dirt.

The second inning was even smoother for Ranaudo. He needed just 10 pitches to set the BaySox down in order, mixing in a tight curveball that sat in the low 80s to keep hitters off balance.

“I felt great,” Ranaudo said after the game. “I was attacking the zone, able to command both sides of the plate with my fastball and throw my changeup and my curveball for strikes. I had some pretty good success.”

Pitching coach Bob Kipper said the frames were “as clean and efficient” as he has seen since Ranaudo arrived in Portland on May 15, and an American League scout in attendance said he liked what he saw in the first and second.

But in the third, Ranaudo struggled badly. Catcher Brian Ward hit a 2-1 fastball to Dent’s left, and Dent made a nice pick before losing the ball on the transition. The next batter bunted to first base, but Reynaldo Rodriguez missed Ranaudo with the throw, and the runners advanced to second and third.

The scout commented that Ranaudo “completely lost” his command once he had to pitch from the stretch, and with men on second and third, Ranaudo went to the first of five straight three-ball counts before coaxing a pop-up to second base.

Even then, it was clear that Ranaudo had lost his mechanics. Where in the first, he pounded his fastball low in the zone, Ranaudo was missing high to his arm side, a symptom of his shoulder flying open. He ultimately walked three straight batters -- plating two runs -- before recording the second out of the inning. Ranaudo had the next batter, Orioles top prospect Manny Machado, down 0-2 before Machado lined a single into right to score a pair. Ranaudo threw 42 of his 66 pitches in the inning, and ultimately took the loss.

“After that (bunt), I didn’t do a very good job of mentally staying focused and in the game,” Ranaudo said. “I didn’t battle hard enough, and I didn’t compete hard enough. That’s just the way it was. I didn’t do my job.”

After the game, Kipper suggested Ranaudo was still trying to settle into Double-A, a process made difficult by Ranaudo’s spring training groin injury. Ranaudo said the injury is behind him, and that he is handling the transition “very well.”

“This one is all on me, pretty much,” he said of the loss. “Just commanding the zone and doing a better job commanding my fastball. My off-speed has been pretty good for me so far this year, so I really have to make sure I command my fastball better, which I haven’t been doing. I just have to get that down.”

In the first two innings, 12 of Ranaudo’s 14 fastballs, which sat between 91 and 94 m.p.h., went for strikes. In his last inning, 18 of 30 were strikes. As he battled his mechanics, Ranaudo also lost command of his off-speed pitches.

Having seen Ranaudo in earlier games, SoxProspects.com director of scouting Chris Mellen saw something similar. He said Ranaudo’s delivery gets less fluid out of the stretch, and he gets into stretches where his shoulder opens early and he lands stiffly and off-center. All of that affects his fastball command, especially with men on base.

His curveball, which sat in the low 80s, was harder than last year. Though it wasn’t a conscious change, Ranaudo said he feels confident with the pitch. Early on, he threw it in all counts, as was the case with his mid-80s changeup.

“Overall, I say my change is really coming along for me,” he said. “I threw it in a lot of even counts tonight, got some bad swings on it. I’ve just got to keep going, building on those, and building on the positives of my starts. Once I do that, everything’s going to come together. I feel like things are starting to come together. I’ve just got to take the positives from this one and roll with it.”