Finishing touches: Anthony Ranaudo hopes tweaked mechanics, new pitch position him for breakthrough

June 14, 2014 - 6:30 am

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Two weeks ago during a bullpen session, Anthony Ranaudo decided that something needed to change. The righty felt that his fastball command was not as consistent as it could be. While the tall righty has been among the most consistent pitchers for Triple-A Pawtucket so far this season, he thought he could be even better. Ranaudo, who sports a 2.79 ERA with a 1.296 WHIP, 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, always felt more confident throwing his fastball out of the stretch than he did out of the windup. PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur began to brainstorm with Ranaudo about what the two could do to improve the 24-year-old's control over his four-seamer. After some discussion, Sauveur and Ranaudo concocted a solution to the righty's concerns. The two decided to make Ranaudo's windup simpler by having it more closely resemble the righty's motion out of the stretch. "It's always a small adjustment that seems to make things go," Sauveur said. "Moving him in a forward direction, it doesn't need to be something big and that's what it was with him. He's done a nice job. He's always working very hard. He knows when he's not happy. He's frustrated because he knows that command is not where it wants to be and he's always looking to get better." "There was a big drop in my initial drop back in my delivery," Ranaudo said. "There were a lot of moving parts and so sometimes, I would be off-balance a little bit. I would be drifting forward a little bit and my arm would be behind. Sometimes, I would stay behind too long and I would cut a ball off so it was just finding that happy medium and finding the delivery with the tempo that's comfortable for me." The early returns on Ranaudo's mechanic tweaks were encouraging for the pitcher. In his last start against the Durham Bulls, Ranaudo turned in his strongest start of the season, hurling seven innings and allowing two hits, striking out seven and walking no batters for the first time in the 2014 season. In addition, Ranaudo threw 65 percent of his pitches for strikes for the first time since April 19 against the Buffalo Bisons. Standing 6-foot-7, Ranaudo can struggle to repeat his delivery, a problem common for many young pitchers of his stature. The recent tweaks in his windup represent an attempt to simplify Ranaudo's motion. "Especially being 6-foot-7, there can be a lot of moving parts there and it's difficult for a bigger person to repeat things as it is so being more simple has allowed me to stay on line better and be able to finish my pitches out front a lot better," said Ranaudo. The tweak in his windup mechanics are not the only changes Ranaudo has made recently. In an attempt to expand his weapons on the mound, Ranaudo began mixing in a slider during his bullpen sessions. Sauveur immediately noticed the potential that the pitch presented for Ranaudo. "It's going to help him a ton once he's able to throw it at a little bit better velocity than what he's got right now," Sauveur said. "Right now, it's about 82, 83 [mph] and he's not throwing it for strikes yet. He's thrown it in a game a couple times and not really had much results from it. He's just starting out with it. It's a true slider, which is good and he's picked up on it well." Ranaudo hopes that the slider brings another angle he can attack hitters with. With a four-seam fastball, changeup and 12-6 curveball already in tow, Ranaudo hopes that a second breaking ball will allow him to mix up his pitch selection more. "Having a slider going right to left with a little bit of depth would be good, rather than just a 12-6 breaking ball," Ranaudo said. "Sometimes, with a curveball, hitters can see that a little bit early and they can spit on and be able to decipher if it's going to be a strike or a ball earlier than they can a late-breaking slider. That's more of what I'm going for, a cutter-type slider. Something that will be able to generate more swings and contact if I'm behind in counts." Sauveur and Ranaudo both hope to see the pitch increase in velocity, sitting somewhere between his mid-90s fastball and changeup. While looking for a model for Ranaudo to talk about his slider, Sauveur did not have to look very far. Sauveur turned to fellow PawSox hurler Alex Wilson, who has thrown a slider his entire career, to talk to Ranaudo about the pitch. After talking with Wilson, Ranaudo saw dramatic improvements. "We tweaked his grip a little bit with it, just playing catch," Wilson said. "Just making him feel more comfortable with what he was doing and how he was going about it. He's got it. I was there for confidence boost basically." Ranaudo began to mix in his slider in his last start in Durham, throwing it around five times to minimal results. Wilson, who believes that the slider could potentially become a great weapon for Ranaudo, talked a lot with the righty about the fundamentals behind the slider and the differences between throwing a slider versus throwing a curveball. "With the slider, you've got to stay behind it a little bit longer," Wilson said. "On the curveball, you're on the side of the ball and it can kind of roll out of the top of your hand. With a slider, you're more manipulating the ball, trying to power your fingers through it and for a guy how has never done that before, it can be a little bit tricky. It was basically teaching him to use his fingers while throwing at the same time. It clicked super quick for him and once he got comfortable with that, he kind of didn't need my help anymore." With the addition of his slider, Ranaudo began to look at video of similarly tall hurler in the majors: Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals. Wainwright, who also stands 6-foot-7, throws a fastball, a cutter, a 12-6 curveball and a changeup. Ranaudo, who hopes to use his slider similarly to a cutter, studies how Wainwright goes through his pitch progressions and how he attacks hitters. "[Wainwright] and I have similar pitches so I like to watch the way he pitches a game," Ranaudo said. "I like watching him even when he doesn't have his best stuff. Watching those guys and watching how they become successful and how they become a dominating major league starting pitchers is the thing that I look for so I like watching Adam Wainwright and the things that he's done." Given that he is only one level away from making the majors, Ranaudo undoubtedly thinks about the day he receives the call to pitch at the highest level. That being said, Ranaudo is keeping himself in the present and trying to improve himself as much as possible, day-to-day, start-to-start. Ranaudo, who has been a starter his whole life, is ready to contribute in any role possible, whether it is at the beginning of the game or out of the bullpen. "I know where I'm at right now," Ranaudo said. "I think do a good job of being in the moment and being where I'm at and telling yourself that this is where you want to be so that way, when the call comes, you're not sitting around waiting for it and saying, 'Why not me? Why am I here?' I'm embracing where I'm at and I'm having a great time and we have a really good team here so it's something that's real and it's there, but like I said, we have a good time with these guys and we have a good team and we try to have fun here."