PAWTUCKET, Rhode Island -- Among the pitchers in Pawtucket's loaded, all-prospect rotation earlier this season, Brandon Workman now appears to have solidified a spot in Boston's rotation, Rubby De La Rosa impressed in his time in the majors, and Allen Webster has pitched well enough to earn another shot at the big leagues. But it is another member of the PawSox rotation who is having perhaps the best season of them all to this point: Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo continues to quietly shut down opposing offenses, and he showed why with seven scoreless innings on Monday night in Pawtucket.
"The fastball was explosive out of his hand, and he was able to utilize a mix," Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles said after the outing. "He left some pitches up, but then he was able to execute. When he was behind in the count, he showed some good execution and was able to get back into the count. He threw some decent breaking balls. I thought the hand speed with the changeup was good. [He was] aggressive. He's really come a long way."
The 24-year-old Ranaudo was recently named to the International League All-Star Team and now owns a 2.35 ERA in 17 starts this season, good for sixth among qualifying Triple-A starters. He has also held batters to a .202 average and struck out 81 over 95 2/3 innings of work. The tall righty began the season at seventh on the SoxProspects.com rankings and now resides at fifth.
In Monday's outing, Ranaudo had success pounding fastballs early and didn't give up his first hit until there were two outs in the fourth. In all, he allowed three hits over seven innings with five strikeouts and two walks.
Ranaudo's fastball sat between 92 and 94 mph and topped out at 95 mph. He was effective when he kept the pitch down in the zone, minimized hard contact and showed finish on the pitch in that area. He recorded three strikeouts with it -- two swinging and one looking. When up in the zone, the pitch was straight and hittable, but he got away with it in this outing. He threw the pitch consistently for strikes and showed solid command, something that has eluded him in other outings.
It helped that the Pawtucket offense scored 10 runs in the first five innings. Ranaudo said the score dictated his ability to pound the zone.
"I had pretty good command of [my fastball], and I thought my command [of it] got better as the game went on," Ranaudo said. "It was easy for me to go and be aggressive with the fastball and just attack guys when we had the big lead. I was just trying to get out there and throw strikes and get back in the dugout because they were swinging the bats so well."
The curveball has been Ranaudo's best secondary offering throughout his minor league career, and he has shown plus potential with tight rotation, excellent depth through the zone and the ability to miss bats at the major league level when it is on. In this outing, the pitch was effective and accounted for two strikeouts, both looking. Ranaudo showed confidence to throw the curve in any count, but unlike previous looks, it did not generate any swings and misses.
Ranaudo didn't use the curve as often as in other outings, with the score dictating his fastball-heavy approach to some extent. The pitch did show its typical tight rotation and depth and was effective in keeping hitters off-balance and off his fastball.
The secondary offering Ranaudo featured most heavily in this outing was the changeup, and it's a pitch he says he has been getting more comfortable throwing.
"[The changeup] is something that I've gained a lot of confidence in," the 6-foot-7 LSU product said. "I shake to it a lot now. I throw it against righties and everything like that. It's definitely a true third pitch for me, and I feel really good about it."
Although the pitch has improved since Ranaudo joined the organization, he still needs to work on his consistency with the offering. He throws the pitch in the 81 to 84 mph range, and it shows late drop when it is down in the zone. At times, however, he seems to slow his arm on the pitch. Even with those improvements, the pitch still lags behind his curveball, but even if it grades as only an average pitch, it will be important to his ability to remain a starter because it will allow him to give hitters a different look the second and third time through a lineup.
Over his past few outings, Ranaudo has been incorporating a fourth pitch -- a slider -- into the mix for the first time. At this point, it's in the very early stages of development, but Ranaudo and coaches like the possibilities it presents for him.
"He's mixing [the slider] in every once in a while," Boles said. "It's good to see. He's going to have to make it move eventually. I think sometimes he gets around the ball a little bit, but there are other times we see some extension and finish."
Ranaudo said he threw it three or four times in Monday's outing. "It's coming, [but] it's not where I want it to be. It's just something that I need to get confidence with. It's a feel pitch for me. It seems like I've been throwing it really well on the four days between my starts, and then I get out on the mound and something changes, so I just have to find that release point and comfort with it, but I think that will come with time. I've seen improvements since I first started throwing it."
It was clear Ranaudo lacked feel for the slider, with the pitch showing short, vertical break sometimes and shorter, horizontal break other times. The pitch is a work in progress, but with continued repetition and refinement, even if it only turns into a fringe-average offering, it could provide another look to keep hitters off-balance and be a valuable part of his arsenal.
"For me, it's just the second breaking ball," the 2010 supplemental first-rounder said. "Sometimes when you climb up the ladder, the better hitters can see a curveball out of the hand, and it's a pitch that they can [lay off]. Especially with two strikes, they see it in a certain area, and if they see it in that area, they are going to take it. Hopefully, this just becomes another breaking ball I can have. If I don't have my best curveball, I can go to it as something I can throw early in counts to get some weak contact."
The slider and changeup still show room for improvement, but even while working on incorporating a new pitch, Ranaudo continues to post sparkling results. A few more starts like Monday, and he might elbow himself to the front of the line of Pawtucket starters looking to get the call-up.
Matt Huegel is managing editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP. Ian Cundall is director of scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.