Mariano Rivera was named the 2013 American League Comeback Player of the Year. Francisco Liriano was his National League counterpart. If such an award existed in the Eastern League, Anthony Ranaudo probably would have been the winner.
The No. 6 Red Sox prospect struggled immensely in 2012, making just nine starts for Double-A Portland due to nagging groin and shoulder issues. He put up a 6.69 ERA and walked as many batters (27) as he struck out in his 37 2/3 innings during that time. He bounced back beautifully in 2013, going 8-4 with a 2.95 ERA, 106 strikeouts and 40 walks in 109 2/3 innings for the Sea Dogs en route to being named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year.
Ranaudo earned a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket in August and went 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA there for the playoff-bound PawSox. The Red Sox have since added the 24-year-old right-hander to their 40-man roster . The 6-foot-7 hurler is expected to return to the International League in 2014, although he could provide rotation depth for the defending World Series champions.
But before any of that, MiLB.com caught up with Ranaudo to discuss his 2013 turnaround, his offseason plans at LSU as well as the differences between being in an organization that's competing versus one that's in the cellar.
MiLB.com: How much did you use the injury woes of 2012 as motivation coming into 2013?
Ranaudo: Oh, that was huge. Knowing that this year that just passed was kind of a make-or-break year for me. It's my third year of pro ball. I was getting into the age where I have to perform. I can't just go off being a highly drafted prospect anymore, you know. So yeah, it was a little extra motivation for me. But that year was also a time when I learned a lot about myself and my body, so there was that too. I developed a few routines that helped me be so much better in 2013 from a lot of standpoints.
MiLB.com: What, in particular, changed about those routines?
Ranaudo: I got a lot of information about what I was doing wrong. For instance, the groin injury had a lot to do with my hips, so I got into a good hip strengthening and flexing routine. That kind of correlated with the shoulder program that I was working on, too. That really helped strengthen the shoulder and helped me get higher velocity on my fastball and repeat my delivery.
MiLB.com: So when you got off to a quick start in Portland, did that help you realize you were on the right track?
Ranaudo: Yeah, absolutely. I realized it in Spring Training that my velocity had creeped up. It was where I was before the injuries. So that was a pretty big confidence boost from the start. Also being more familiar with the Eastern League helped me some. I know my numbers in 2012 didn't really show anything, but at least I was familiar with the league and knew the quality of the hitters there and the competition of it all. That kind of correlated with my confidence.
MiLB.com: You guys had quite the rotation at the beginning in Portland with Drake Britton, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes and yourself. What was that dynamic like among you starters?
Ranaudo: It was awesome. I was really excited to be with Brandon, Drake and Matt, because we're all really good friends. We pushed each other each time we got out there. When one had a good start, the next guy knew he had to follow up and match that. Yeah, there's some competitiveness there to it, but we helped each other get better, too.
MiLB.com: Anything in particular you guys talked about? Any particular knowledge you guys shared with each other?
Ranaudo: We talked about everything. One thing, for example, is Brandon and I talked with Matt a lot about his curveball because he was working on that a lot. We throw a spike [grip], so we were showing that to him. Little things like that. We each have our different approaches on how to start a game, and you have to respect that too. We tried to be friends first, though, even if we're each other's competition to get to the big leagues. If we come together as teammates and friends, the rest takes care of itself.
MiLB.com: What did you ask the other three?
Ranaudo: I learned from Brandon and Drake when they got called up about what it's like to be pitching in the big leagues. I tried to talk to them a decent amount, and they gave me some tips. Nothing too specific -- just stuff where hopefully if I get called up next year or in the future, I'll have those guys up there to show me the ropes and I'll already know a little bit of what to expect. Hopefully, I can pitch well enough that that happens at some point soon.
MiLB.com: Moving on to the middle of the season, you got to play in the Futures Game in Citi Field. What was that experience like?
Ranaudo: The actual game itself wasn't one of my proudest moments [laughs]. [Note: Ranaudo gave up two runs on two hits (one homer) and two walks in two-thirds of an inning.] But the whole experience was pretty awesome. Being there with all those guys and getting to soak in All-Star weekend was a lot of fun. I made it one of my goals after getting drafted to make it to that game. It took a little longer than I expected, but I was happy to be there. Being in a Major League park, a Major League clubhouse with the fans and it being an ESPN game, that's the kind of stuff I hope can kind of help me when I get there. It gives me a little bit of what to expect. And the guys I played with -- you can just tell they'll be very successful and some great Major League players.
MiLB.com: In August, you finally got the callup to Triple-A. What did you notice was different right off the bat there?
Ranaudo: One of the biggest things for me was not just the age difference but the experience. These hitters were looking for specific pitches to hit in a certain count. In Double-A, you can get guys to be undisciplined and sometimes get a cheap out pretty quickly. You have to work for certain things in Triple-A and execute your pitches or you'll get hit around pretty easily.
MiLB.com: Was there a particular "Welcome to Triple-A ball" moment for you?
Ranaudo: I know my second start I gave up five runs [four earned] in five innings. That kind of crept up on me, though. It was against the Syracuse team, and I knew they had some pretty good hitters in the middle of their lineup, but I thought I was going along OK. Then by the fifth, they had figured out my gameplan and had a much better approach. They made me kind of sit back and think, 'OK, they have a plan too. After seeing guys a few times, I really have to throw all of my pitches to be successful.'
MiLB.com: You obviously did settle down and pitch pretty well in Pawtucket, and you guys made the playoffs before losing to Durham in the Governors' Cup Finals. How important was it to get some professional playoff experience?
Ranaudo: It was awesome for me. Honestly, that first game [2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K in a 7-1 loss in Rochester] was one of those days where it felt like everything went against me. I hate to make excuses like that, but that's really how it felt. I had great feel, felt really confident after my bullpen and then a lot of things fell through in that game. You could attribute it to how things started. We traveled the day before. There were other things that didn't work out.
But that second game [6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K in a 2-1 win at Durham] was so much fun. [Jake] Odorizzi and I were battling it out the whole time, and we were able to squeak it out in the end. It was one of those great experiences that I'm going to carry with me heading forward in my pro career.
MiLB.com: After the year was over, the Red Sox added you to their 40-man roster. It was an expected move, but what was your reaction to that?
Ranaudo: It was pretty humbling, I'd say. It's great to be officially on the roster now. It feels good knowing that I had a good year, and they had enough confidence in me after what they saw last year. If anything, though, it makes more excited to see what happens this season. I know I'm going to have to make the most of it, being this close, to get a chance to become familiar with the Major League lifestyle. Hopefully, I can be a part of that Red Sox team and contribute to this organization at the top level next year.
MiLB.com: You've been in that organization for a little bit now, and you were there for the peak when the big club won last year and the valley that was the 2012 season. Even though you were in the Minors, was there a palpable difference in the atmosphere of the organization?
Ranaudo: Honestly, I didn't notice. A big part of that was in 2012, I feel like I got too caught up in the Major Leagues and how I could potentially help them if I got there. In doing that, I think I put too much pressure on myself to get there. That being said, it's great to see the Major League team do well this year. I was just trying to focus on my own moments though this year, whatever start I was making next. Just focus where I'm at. I told myself not to worry about them until I make it up there. I know there were others who were just in better spirits as the year went along because of their success.
MiLB.com: I was scrolling through your Twitter feed before this, and it looks like you went back to LSU this fall.
Ranaudo: I took four classes down here and just got all my grades today, so I'm pretty happy about that. I'm still chipping away at my degree. I still have another semester left, I think, but I thought being here this offseason would be a great opportunity to knock out 12 [credit] hours.
MiLB.com: What's your major?
Ranaudo: Sports administration. It's pretty broad, but I'm hoping it allows me to go into the sports field whenever I'm done actually playing the game. Hopefully, this sets me up well for that.
MiLB.com: How important is that degree to you?
Ranaudo: Coach [Paul] Mainieri -- he taught at Notre Dame and the Air Force Academy before he came to LSU, and those are some pretty good academic schools. So he pretty much ingrained it in us the value of our education. Plus, it's important to my mom, my dad, the rest of my family and me, too. It's something I can do for the people I respect in my life and show my gratitude for all the stuff they've taught me. When you come to LSU, it's ingrained in us by Coach that you're a student-athlete, and obviously, "student" is the first word in that. It's important to a lot of us to finish our degree.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.