PORTLAND, Maine — Growing up, Portland Sea Dogs righthander Anthony Ranaudo used to play a number of positions on the baseball diamond including first base, third base, shortstop, and pitcher.
But by his own admission, he literally outgrew the field positions when he reached St. Rose High School in his native Belmar, N.J., so he stuck to pitching.
“I embraced it,” said Ranaudo.
But opposing hitters aren’t embracing having to face the 6-foot-7, 231-pound Ranaudo these days.
He has a 4-0 record and a sparkling 1.00 earned run average. In five starts spanning 27 innings, he has allowed just 15 hits with 30 strikeouts and six walks. Opponents are hitting only .169 against him.
“I’ve gotten off to a good start so far,” he said.
Unlike last season.
Ranaudo suffered a groin pull and a lower back strain before shoulder fatigue shut him down with a month left in the season.
He wound up with a 1-3 record and a 6.69 ERA with the Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. He allowed 41 hits in 37 2/3 innings and he had 27 walks and 27 strikeouts.
“It was a year to forget,” said Ranaudo. “But I definitely learned some things.”
The Red Sox sent him to their spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., where he rehabilitated his shoulder for two months. He also did a variety of exercises designed to prevent a recurrence of his groin and lower back problems.
“I gained 15 pounds and put on some pretty good muscle. I felt more in sync with my body and I got a lot stronger. That has helped me,” said the 23-year-old Ranaudo.
Ranaudo gained three to five miles an hour on his fastball, and he said the number is even higher “if you consider where I was with my shoulder fatigue at the end of last season.”
“And I’m able to command it pretty well,” added Ranaudo whose fastballs routinely range in the 95-97 miles per hour range.
“He has taken his fastball to another level. He is more fit and stronger. His fastball has explosive life,” explained Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper. “The ball appears to be hitting another gear [when it gets to the plate]. He’s also able to leverage the ball down in the strike zone.”
Ranaudo has given up just one homer this season.
He also has a curve and is making impressive progress on his changeup.
According to Kipper, Ranaudo throws his curve “off the same plane as his fastball,” but it has a late downward break.
That results in a lot of swings and misses.
“Out of my hand, it looks like a fastball,” said Ranaudo. “Because it has the same rotation as my fastball, I’ve been able to have a lot of success with it.”
Kipper said Ranaudo is able to throw his curve at any time in the count.
The key to an effective changeup is being able to maintain the same arm speed that you have with your fastball and Kipper said Ranaudo is “allowing his arm to accelerate through the pitch” which creates the deception for the hitter.
“His grip creates the separation [in velocity],” said Kipper who pointed out that Ranaudo’s changeup is 88 mph, seven mph slower than his normal fastball.
“I never used to have confidence in it but I have tremendous confidence in it now. It has come a long way,” said Ranaudo, a first-round draft pick of the Red Sox out of Louisiana State University in 2010.
His overall confidence is noticeable, according to Kipper.
“He walks with a swagger now,” said Kipper. “He’s in a good place physically, mentally and fundamentally.
“He’s a great kid whose work ethic is second to none. There’s a lot to like about Anthony Ranaudo.”
Ranaudo had a memorable college career, leading the Tigers to the College World Series championship in 2009. He was the winning pitcher in the title-clinching win over Texas in Omaha and he was chosen to the CWS All-Tournament team..
“I was fortunate enough to go to two College World Series,” said Ranaudo. “We went my freshman year but we didn’t win.
“It was a great experience. Going back after having a year under my belt was like night and day,” said Ranaudo. “And to be the winning pitcher in the championship game made it even more surreal.”
He had an elbow ailment his junior year but pitched well at the end and went on to pitch for Brewster in the Cape Cod League that summer. He didn’t allow an earned run in five starts spanning 29 2/3 innings. He allowed 10 hits with 31 strikeouts.
“There was a great atmosphere down there. You got to play with great players and meet guys from different schools. I learned a lot about the game,” he said.
He signed a $2,550,000 signing bonus after being drafted by the Red Sox and was 9-6 between Greenville and Salem in Single-A ball in 2011 with 117 strikeouts in 127 innings.
He enjoys Portland, particularly after April.
“[The weather is] pretty brutal in April,” said Ranaudo. “But the town is a lot of fun and they have a lot of really nice people. They support the team. It’s a great town in the summer.”
He said Kipper and manager Kevin Boles have been a joy to play for and he and his mates “keep things loose until we go on the field. Then we get serious and play hard.”
He said he feels “blessed” to have an chance to pursue “everyone’s dream” to play major league baseball.
“This is a great opportunity and I intend to put everything I can into it,” he said.