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Guardians notes: José Ramírez within the Dwelling Run Derby, Gavin Williams’ new-ish pitch, extra

DETROIT — Two years ago, José Ramírez, forced to bat right-handed because of a thumb injury that eventually required surgery, made a first-round exit from the Home Run Derby.

The Cleveland Guardians third baseman will have no such restrictions next week when he seeks revenge. Junior Betances, a longtime hitting coach in the organization, will pitch to him. Ramírez hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll hit lefty or righty. He said it depends on what feels best that day and what advantages he can attain from the dimensions of Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Ramírez will have four Guardians All-Star teammates to supply him with Gatorade or towel him off during breaks from each hacking session.

“It’s going to feel like we’re at home,” he said through team interpreter Agustín Rivero.

No Cleveland hitter has ever won the Derby. Albert Belle participated three times, but never came out on top. He fell to Frank Thomas in the final round in 1995. Jim Thome (twice), Manny Ramirez, Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana also came up short. José Ramírez lost to Juan Soto in the opening round in 2022.

Guardians manager Stephen Vogt dismissed the notion that a night of relentless aiming for the fences can derail a hitter’s swing mechanics, citing Julio Rodríguez’s second-half surge last year. Belle credited the event for helping him regain his power in 1995, when he slugged 36 of his 50 homers in the second half.

“Who am I to get in the way of anybody who wants to do that?” Vogt said. “He wants to do that. Let’s go. Go show the world your power.”



Path to the All-Star Game for 5 Cleveland Guardians

Gavin Williams’ new slider isn’t really a slider at all. It’s a cutter. But he wants it to be a slider.

Got that?

Let’s rewind. Last year, Williams featured a fastball, slider, curveball and, once in a blue moon, a changeup. This year, he still has the fastball and curveball and he’s thrown two changeups in his two starts, but his slider has registered as a cutter on the league’s tracking devices.

That’s in part because he’s throwing the pitch much harder, but it’s a work in progress. In fact, because of a tweak to the grip, the pitch has looked different in the two starts he has made since returning from an elbow injury.

Williams’ slider in 2023: 84.9 mph

His cutter in his first start in 2024: 91.6 mph

His cutter in his second start in 2024: 88.3 mph

Pitching coach Carl Willis said the slider or cutter or Secondary Pitch No. 2 or whatever one wants to dub it had more depth and more horizontal movement on Monday, when he blanked the Tigers for 5 1/3 innings. Ultimately, they want it to resemble a slider more than a cutter, but they also want to protect his elbow, which Willis said is why the pitch might look different and why it remains a work in progress.

In other news, Williams’ fastball averaged 97.5 mph on Monday.

Spencer Howard enjoyed July 4 festivities at the beach in his native Paso Robles, Calif., a rare midseason respite for a big-leaguer. He was in DFA limbo, awaiting word from his agent on the identity of his next team after the San Francisco Giants had severed ties with him. The move wasn’t unexpected, as San Francisco was welcoming back a slew of pitchers from the injured list.

So Howard drove three hours south to spend a few days with friends and family, play catch and lift weights at a local tennis club. And then he learned the Guardians had acquired him.

“I was stoked,” said Howard, who is scheduled to start for Cleveland on Thursday.

He arrived at Progressive Field last weekend to watch his new team take two of three from his old team, which he described as “strange.”

The Guardians’ desperate search for starting pitching led them to a former top-50 prospect who has yet to find his big-league footing. The Philadelphia Phillies snagged Howard in the second round of the 2017 draft and then dealt him to the Texas Rangers in a deal that landed them Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy at the 2021 trade deadline. The New York Yankees scooped him up for a month last summer. He signed with the Giants near the end of the 2023 season. Now, he’s a Guardian — all of this before his 28th birthday.

“The Philly-to-Rangers trade was every emotion,” he said. “That was the team I thought I was going to be with forever. … Going from there to the Rangers, that one was weird, foreign, an emotional roller coaster for a bit.”

This latest relocation didn’t take the same toll. Howard owns a 6.93 ERA across 139 innings in the majors. Opponents have logged a .296/.371/.521 line against him.

Ah, but this is Cleveland, the organization with the heralded pitching factory. Surely, they’ll cure him.

“Everybody has this idea,” Willis said, “that they’re going to Cleveland and they’re going to sprinkle pixie dust or whatever the heck it is.’”

Wait, that’s not how it works?

Cleveland’s brass has studied Howard’s delivery and his pitch metrics. Willis prefers to watch a new pupil operate before suggesting any sort of overhaul.

“What we are able to do,” Willis said, “is give them some comfort and confidence to believe that all we want to see is you go out and try to show us the best version of you. How do you pitch? What do you do? Where’s your best location with each pitch? Are you comfortable doing this? Are you uncomfortable doing that? We’re not making suggestions right off the bat. Let a guy go out and pitch and be himself and show us what we have to work with.”

Angel Martínez went 0-for-3 in his major-league debut on June 22. Since, he has reached base in all seven games in which he has appeared.

In that stretch:

Game 1: two hits
Game 2: two hits, one walk
Game 3: one hit, three walks
Game 4: two walks
Game 5: one hit, two walks
Game 6: two hits
Game 7: one hit (a homer)

Martínez and Riggs Stephenson (in 1921) are the only players in franchise history to reach base multiple times in six of their first seven games. Martínez and Stephenson each reached 16 times in total. The only player in Cleveland history to reach more? Steven Kwan, who reached base 20 times in his first seven games.

(Photo of José Ramírez after hitting a home run last month: Ed Zurga / Getty Images)

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