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Springer has a blast in All-Star farewell

Astros prospect homers twice in last game before promotion
June 25, 2013

SPRINGDALE, Ark. -- Frisco RoughRiders right-hander Neil Ramirez had seen it all before. He liked the view much better at the Texas League All-Star Game on Tuesday night.

The Rangers' No. 15 prospect got the start and set the tone in the South Division's 6-0 blanking of the North at Arvest Balpark.

"It's fun. All-Star Games are a time when you meet different guys," Ramirez said after playing alongside the guys he usually tries to beat every fifth day. "Just have fun with it, don't try to do too much. Just go out there and try to have a quick inning and get in here and enjoy it."

Ramirez, back in the groove after a rough 2012 season, established the tone with a scoreless first inning, then happily took a seat to watch RoughRiders teammates Odubel Herrera and Brett Nicholas -- as well as opponents like All-Star MVP George Springer of Corpus Christi -- take care of the offense.

Springer, the Astros' No. 3 prospect, homered twice and drove in three runs. Herrera had a pair of singles and an RBI, while Nicholas slugged a leadoff blast in the seventh.

Herrera helped Ramirez set the tone when he ranged deep in the hole and made a leaping throw to retire North leadoff man Angelys Nina of the Tulsa Drillers in the bottom of the first.

"It fell on my day to pitch today, so that kind of helped out, but it's an honor to get that nod," said Ramirez, who struck out Major League veteran Ruben Gotay of the Springfield Cardinals in his lone inning on the mound.

Frisco skipper Steve Buechele, who managed the South squad, pronounced Ramirez (8-2, 3.12 ERA) fit and back on track following a season in which he dealt with shoulder fatigue and was demoted from Triple-A Round Rock after posting a 7.66 ERA.

"It's been a complete turnaround from last year," Buechele said. "He's been real good up until now and I don't expect anything but good things from Neil the rest of the year."

There was talk of converting the 24-year-old right-hander into a reliever, but Ramirez has remained a starter. Although with just one inning to work on Tuesday night, he had to avoid taking the mound with a reliever's mentality.

"You start warming up and your body is kind of in starter mode where you've got to pace yourself when you go six, seven innings," Ramirez said.

Whatever his mentality, it worked. And the other seven South pitchers followed suit as no North runner got past second base.

"You just look at the numbers they're running out there," said Northwest Arkansas manager Brian Poldberg, whose North squad had to fill three spots Sunday due to injuries. "They were healthy and they went out and hit the ball well and had good pitching."

Springer, who's on his way to Triple-A Oklahoma City, homered to make it 3-0 in the sixth and added a two-run shot to cap the scoring in the eighth.

"A kid like him, you've got to be on your game when you face him," Ramirez said. "I think at times it elevates your game, too."

"To be honest, I'm pretty sick of seeing him against us. It was nice to be on the same side with him," Buechele added.

North starter Tyler Matzek of the Drillers fanned five over two innings, but his throwing error opened the door in the South's two-run second. San Antonio's Jake Blackwood hit a leadoff single and, two strikeouts later, Matzek fielded a comebacker by Corpus Christi's Rene Garcia and overthrew first with a lob from the right side of the mound. Blackwood scored and Garcia took second before racing home on Herrera's base hit to left.

Springer, Nicholas and the North pitching staff took over the rest of the way.

Todd Traub is a contributor to