Smokies' Ramirez gets off on right foot

Right-hander allows one hit, strikes out five over 4 2/3 frames

By Jonathan Raymond / | August 29, 2013 9:44 PM ET

When a Major Leaguer gets traded, there might be any number of reasons behind it -- age, salary, production.

When a Minor Leaguer is dealt away, though, there's one main factor involved -- the team on the receiving end thinks you can help down the road.

On Thursday, taking the mound for the first time with his new team, Neil Ramirez showed the Cubs what he could do in the near future.

The club's No. 12 prospect, acquired to complete this year's Matt Garza recent trade from the Rangers, looked strong in his debut with Double-A Tennessee. The right-hander surrendered just one hit and two walks and struck out five in 4 2/3 innings without factoring into the decision in a 5-0 win over Chattanooga.

"I thought it was good. I thought I was out there throwing strikes, attacking guys, just trying to give these guys a chance to win," he said. "I threw all my pitches, my fastball and changeup were working the most for me. I was able keep guys off balance with the changeup and elevate the fastball. Worked out."

The Cubs have mounted a highly visible rebuilding effort over the past few seasons under general manager Theo Epstein, and as in any rebuilding project, that means a young talent like Ramirez will likely get a chance to push for an opportunity sooner than later.

"I'm excited about it and I know any time you get traded to a team they obviously have been scouting you and think you can help them. I see it as like a fresh start. It's a good organization to be with, trying to rebuild and you know it seems like they're trying to do it through their Minor League system, give guys opportunities. I'm excited about that," he said.

The 24-year-old had long been a promising arm in the Texas system, but scuffled some last year. He began the year with Triple-A Round Rock, where he ended the 2011 season, but posted a 7.66 ERA in 74 innings with the Express and was sent down to Double-A Frisco.

He regained his footing there, notching a 4.20 ERA in his last 13 appearances of the season, and this year, he re-established his prospect status by going 9-3 for the RoughRiders with a 3.84 ERA in 103 innings. Most importantly, he's struck out 127 -- good for an 11.10 K/9 -- while walking 42.

He said the trade also gave him a chance to take a few days off and recharge for the stretch run.

"There was a period of about five days where I didn't throw a baseball, just because I wasn't able to. So it's nice just to get back to throwing when I got to Tennessee, get into my routine, try to finish strong," Ramirez said. "It's a little bit of an adjustment as far as being down and having to get cranked up again, but I feel like the downtime will help me finish strong here.

"They've got great guys in this clubhouse. They're going to the playoffs and have been playing real well all year and made me feel like one of the guys right away. Just getting out there and playing baseball again, they made it easy, made it comfortable."

Offensively for the Smokies, No. 14 Cubs prospect Christian Villanueva homered while Justin Bour plated three runs.

P.J. Francescon (2-0) struck out three and walked one in 1 1/3 innings of relief to earn the win while Yeiper Castillo picked up his first save with three perfect frames to off the one-hitter.

Jonathan Raymond is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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