After struggling at Triple-A Round Rock and showing glimpses of inconsistency back at Frisco, Neil Ramirez appears to be back on track.
The Rangers' No. 6 prospect allowed one hit over five innings Sunday as the Double-A RoughRiders blanked Northwest Arkansas, 3-0, in the first game of a doubleheader.
The victory was the first in nine starts since June 25 for Ramirez (2-3), who extended his scoreless streak to 11 innings and lowered his ERA to 3.70.
"For me, it's all about having confidence," Ramirez said. "Coming down here and working with pitching coach Jeff Andrews has been good. I'm not worrying about everything else, I'm just trying to compete. Hopefully, I can keep it going and this is just a stepping stone."
In 15 Pacific Coast League appearances, Ramirez went 6-8 with a 7.66 ERA and 63 strikeouts over 74 innings. But the 23-year-old right-hander has put up zeros in three of his last four outings and, with the exception of a pair of bad starts in which he surrendered 12 runs, he's posted a 1.25 ERA since being sent down from Triple-A Round Rock.
Ramirez's Texas League numbers might have been even better had he not suffered a right shoulder injury that sent him to the seven-day disabled list in mid-July. Since then, he's been building his innings back up with the hope he'll be free to pitch as deep as possible in the playoffs.
"Coming back from that shoulder setback, I think the team has been trying to play things on the safe side," said Ramirez, who threw 60 pitches in Sunday's opener. "It wasn't too long, maybe a week, but I was just trying to keep it under control to the point where it wasn't too bad.
"It was just one of those things where it started feeling bad. There wasn't a specific time, it just started creeping up. It was just minor wear and tear."
Against the Naturals, Ramirez retired his first eight batters before issuing a two-out walk to Michael Liberto in the third. Yem Prades followed with a double, but left fielder Ryan Strausborger hit cutoff man Jurickson Profar, whose relay throw to catcher Zach Zaneski beat Liberto to the plate to preserve a 1-0 lead.
"I left it over the plate and he got a hold of it and hit it down the line. They were really aggressive at third base, but Profar made a good throw," Ramirez said.
Only two other batters reached against the 44th overall pick in the 2007 Draft. Paulo Orlando got aboard on Profar's throwing error in the fourth but was picked off and Mario Lisson was hit by a pitch leading off the fifth before Carlo Testa bounced into a double play.
"I thought it went well," Ramirez said. "I was able to get ahead of guys and keep the ball down and get quick outs. I was happy with it. I was throwing my fastball and slider a lot today, and for whatever reason it was working."
Ramirez turned a 2-0 lead over to the bullpen in the sixth and Ryan Rodebaugh fanned two over two one-hit innings to earn his fourth save.