CLEVELAND — With Andrew Miller sidelined by injuries for much of the season, manager Terry Francona has been searching for someone — really, anyone — to help bridge the gap to closer Cody Allen in the Indians’ beleaguered bullpen.
Though it’s been only two straight effective late-inning appearances, right-hander Neil Ramirez may be his man.
Ramirez, a veteran of three major league seasons, helped the Indians to a pair of wins over the first-place Milwaukee Brewers at Progressive Field on Tuesday and Wednesday.
When Cleveland begins a three-game series tonight at Detroit’s Comerica Park, he figures to be back in the setup role.
“When guys are starting to back up (solid outings) and start to be consistent, I think they earn pitching in leverage situations,” Francona said of Ramirez, following Wednesday’s win. “Just try to, like we always do, put out there who we think has a chance to succeed and in the right positions.
“Everybody sees the stuff, but his breaking ball is starting to get some depth to it, which gives him a little different look. … You can tell a difference.”
“I’m a guy that likes to throw a lot,” said Ramirez, who signed a minor league free agent contract this offseason after appearing in 29 games for the Giants and Mets in 2017. “I like getting out there. I’m here just to get outs. I’m happy to pitch in any situation. For (Francona) to have some trust in me later in games, it’s awesome. But I know that everybody else out there can do that job, too. We’re just going to keep it rolling.”
Like the rest of his fellow relievers, Ramirez, who has already pitched for six big league teams over three-plus seasons, got off to a slow start upon joining the Indians from Triple-A Columbus in mid-May.
The extremely poor performance from the bullpen — the majors’ worst for a large part of the season — is one of the main reasons the first-place Indians, who own one of the best rotations in baseball and led the majors in runs in May, are only four games above .500 at 32-28.
“We see how the starters are getting it done. We feel the load down there when we don’t get it done,” Ramirez said. “To come out here the last few days and everybody’s just trying to do their part. I don’t have anything other than just going out there and trying to get outs.
“I know the bullpen struggles have been kind of highlighted. When we go out there and focus on the pitches we need to make, we’ll be fine.”
There is still no timetable for Miller’s return and the Indians aren’t expected to make a move outside of the organization for any legitimate assistance until the July 31 trade deadline.
So as far as the Indians are concerned, Ramirez better be right.
“We want to get Miller back there big time,” he said. “He’s a huge piece of what we do out there. To get him back is going to be huge.
“Everybody’s just trying to get outs out there. It’s not about roles or what situation. When the name is called, just go out there and get the job done.”