FORT MYERS, Fla. — The fastball snapped into catcher Matt Spring’s glove, the batter miserably late with his swing.
Anthony Ranaudo can dominate.
Eventually those fastballs were missing their marks, some missing just off the corners, others really outside.
Anthony Ranaudo can misfire.
Welcome to spring training out on the minor league fields. Pitchers are in a battle, mostly with themselves and their fickle arms.
Ranaudo, 24, is not your basic minor leaguer. He truly could be at Fenway Park this season. He began spring training in major league camp and debuted three weeks ago with two perfect innings (four strikeouts) against the Minnesota Twins.
On Thursday, Ranaudo faced the Tampa Bay Rays’ Triple-A club. He looked fine at times but mostly not. He left after 4 2/3 innings: two hits, one run, five walks, one hit batter and two strikeouts.
“Not good,” Ranaudo said. “Hard to be competing in a game and still be working on things.
“It’s hard to keep in mind that it’s only the third week of March and this isn’t a finished product.”
Ranaudo’s competitiveness got the best of him and he was caught trying too hard.
“It became a grind,” pitching coach Bob Kipper said. “And he would admit he was probably the biggest reason it was a grind.”
“I put a lot of pressure on myself and I think I showed that today,” Ranaudo said, “and that’s something I need to work on, and go back to what made me successful.”
If Ranaudo is pressing it’s because he’s at the doorstep to the big leagues. That injury-plagued 2012 season in Portland is getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. He has 2013 (combined 11-5, 2.96 ERA in Portland and Pawtucket) to build on.
When Ranaudo was dominating the Twins earlier this month, Manager John Farrell said Ranaudo has “everything you’re looking for in a starting pitcher with power stuff, with the ability to pitch (several) innings.”
Ranaudo could be in line for a call-up this season.
“I feel it’s close but there are some things I have to work on,” Ranaudo said. “There were times (Thursday) that I got out of my delivery and rushed.”
There were also positives, like his early fastball command, and his developing change-up that Ranaudo is using more often.
“As much as he fought himself, there were things he did really, really well,” Kipper said. “I liked the way he used his change-up. That’s a big pitch in his development, and he got three outs with it.”
Ranaudo, the 39th overall pick in 2010, has always been long on potential (and tall, at 6-foot-7). He is close to catching up with that promise. Ranaudo will get one or two more starts before packing up for Pawtucket. There he will wait for the call.
MICHAEL OLMSTED is another pitcher looking for the refinement needed to make it to the majors. He may be further away than Ranaudo, but there was a time he seemed so close.
Olmsted, 26, was a great story when he was promoted to the Sea Dogs late in 2012. A former pitcher in the Mets’ organization, Japan and the independent leagues, Olmsted dominated the Eastern League with a 0.00 ERA in 14 games (20 innings). With a 97 mph fastball and a tight slider, he looked destined for the majors.
But Boston did not put him on the 40-man roster, and the Milwaukee Brewers signed and sent him to Triple-A where he struggled mightily (6.71 ERA).
“My mechanics were off,” Olmsted said. “I’d had a few good games and few bad ones. And the bad ones were really, really bad.”
Olmsted, who is 6-foot-7, 270 pounds, thought he was back on track this year. He had pitched only two games (11/3 innings), this spring, allowing two hits and a run, when Milwaukee released him.
“I sent (the Red Sox) an email 15 minutes after I was released,” Olmsted said.
Boston welcomed him back on a minor league contract. If he shows the Red Sox something, he may end up in Pawtucket or Portland next month.
“I feel like I got it under control and I’m ready to go,” Olmsted said.
CHRIS BALCOM-MILLER was once considered a rising pitching prospect when the Red Sox obtained him in 2010 from Colorado in a trade for Manny Delcarmen. He was promoted to Portland early in 2011.
Balcom-Miller’s results have been up and down. He moved to the bullpen in 2012 to utilize his ground ball-inducing sinker. But then he was shelved most of 2013 with a sore elbow.
He pitched in a Triple-A game this past week.
“The last time I pitched was July. I was a little anxious,” said Balcom-Miller, who threw two innings. “Good to get it out of the way with no problems.”
He’s likely headed back to Portland to start the season.
TWO PITCHERS WHO will not start their seasons soon are Matt Barnes and Pete Ruiz. Barnes, who was promoted from Portland to Pawtucket last year, has been hampered by a sore shoulder and doesn’t know when he’ll get back on the mound. Ruiz, a Sea Dogs reliever, had bone chips removed from his right elbow. He figures to be ready in May.
AND WHILE WE are talking about pitchers who are coming back (or will soon come back), it should be noted that the aforementioned Manny Delcarmen is trying to get back to the majors with Washington. Delcarmen, 32, has not pitched in the big leagues since he was with the Rockies in 2010. He underwent Tommy John surgery after that year. In the past two seasons he’s pitched in the Orioles and Yankees minor league systems.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: