Among the most important tools in Neil Ramirez's bag? A nerve-calming deep breath.
The old inhale-and-exhale served the Rangers' No. 16 prospect well Saturday night, helping the right-hander settle his overly hyper self. That, paired with a deceptive changeup, helped Ramirez strike out 10 and limit Corpus Christi to two hits over six innings in Double-A Frisco's 3-0 victory.
The 10 strikeouts were one shy of a season high for Ramirez, who punched out 11 against Midland on May 14.
After he struck out Jiovanni Mier and Raoul Torrez to begin the game, adrenaline briefly got the better of Ramirez as he walked Jonathan Singleton and Domingo Santana consecutively.
"I just started kind of working a little fast," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I had a little adrenaline going in the first inning. I slowed down and told myself to focus on making pitches."
Ramirez (8-2) regained control in short order, getting Erik Castro swinging to escape the jam and sailing smoothly through the next five innings. He issued a two-out free pass to Max Stassi in the second, but that was his last walk and he set down the next eight hitters allowing a double to Stassi in the fifth. He followed that by fanning Drew Muren and Mier.
Torrez led off the sixth with a single, but Ramirez struck out the next three hitters -- the heart of the Hooks' order -- to wrap up his outing at 95 pitches.
Ramirez worked primarily with a fastball-changeup combination, though he also throws a slider and curveball. The fastball can tick into the mid-90s and though he's long boasted a solid changeup, he thinks recent improvements to the offering have made it even more effective.
"The last couple of outings, I've felt like my changeup has come along pretty good," he said. "I have the confidence in my breaking stuff as well, but my changeup has been really good these last couple outings.
"I really like to throw it to right-handers as well as lefties. I just need to keep the same hand speed and throw it enough like my fastball."
The past few seasons have featured a whirlwind of promotions for the 44th overall pick in the 2007 Draft as he jumped three levels all the way to the Texas League in 2011. Last year, Texas bumped him up to Triple-A Round Rock, but after 15 disappointing starts, the organization sent him back to Frisco to rediscover his form.
Ramirez appears to have found that this season, posting a 3.12 ERA with 91 strikeouts and 36 walks in 75 innings. While small improvements to his repertoire, like his still-improving changeup, have helped, it's adjustments to his mental approach that have helped him corral occasional command problems.
"Sometimes I speed up a little and leave the ball up in my delivery," Ramirez said. "Having the intent to throw the pitch where I want it and with the stuff on it I want is what will keep me in the strike zone.
"I can't try to miss bats too early. If you get ahead, 0-2, then you can take your shot. And after that, then you come back into the zone. I need to be efficient with my pitches, not try to do too much. That's when I get in trouble."
Odubel Herrera went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored for the RoughRiders, who snapped a four-game losing streak.