Ramirez, Reds victorious in D.C.

Ramirez, Reds victorious in D.C.

WASHINGTON -- Called up from Triple-A Louisville, Elizardo Ramirez made a spot start for a 4-2 Reds win over the Nationals on Monday that often seemed to go a lot like his nickname.

"E.Z."

"He threw quality strikes," manager Jerry Narron praised. "He pitched ahead all night. It seemed like he was ahead of everybody and never deep in any counts."

Because of his efficiency, the 23-year-old Ramirez (1-0) was able to pitch into the eighth inning for his first big-league victory.

"I feel very, very happy," said Ramirez, who was credited with seven innings. He allowed two runs and six hits with one walk and four strikeouts.

The last time Ramirez was seen in the big leagues was in a July 4, 2005, spot start at San Francisco. He gave up seven earned runs and eight hits in just 3 2/3 innings and went 0-3 with an 8.46 ERA overall in six games, including four starts, last season.

"He worked hard through the offseason," catcher Javier Valentin said. "He looked so different, especially with the off-speed."

Cincinnati staked Ramirez to a 3-0 first-inning lead against Nationals starter Livan Hernandez (1-3) and gave him room to stay relaxed as Valentin offered steady encouragement.

"We talked to him and said, 'Don't try and do too much,' " Valentin said. "'Concentrate on every pitch and locate every pitch.' "

After giving up Nick Johnson's one-out RBI single in the first inning, the Dominican right-hander retired 12 in a row and 15 of the next 16 batters.

"I was concentrating on getting ahead of the hitters to make it make it easier on myself by throwing the first-pitch strike, and a quality first pitch," Ramirez said in Spanish, with shortstop Felipe Lopez interpreting.

There were no real signs of vulnerability until the sixth, when Ramirez allowed Jose Vidro's one-out single and Johnson's walk while up by a 4-1 score. Jose Guillen's bloop single scored Vidro and made it a two-run game. Ryan Zimmerman then hit into a force play at third base, but Edwin Encarnacion's wild throw to first base extended the inning. Ramirez got the next batter to pop out and escaped the jam.

Following that challenging sixth, Narron made the decision to let the pitcher bat with one out in the seventh. Ramirez notched a single to left field for his first big-league hit.

"I thought he was still pitching well," Narron said. "His pitch count was low and his stuff was still good, and he was throwing strikes."

The calculated risk paid off. Ramirez retired the side in order in the seventh, with two strikeouts.

Narron let Ramirez have another go in the eighth, but lifted him for Brian Shackelford following Alfonso Soriano's leadoff single on his 94th pitch. Todd Coffey preserved the lead by recording the inning's final two outs with two men on. David Weathers earned his fifth save working the ninth.

Somewhere, former Reds ace Mario Soto will be smiling with approval. Soto, now the interim pitching coach at Louisville, has been tutoring Ramirez and teaching him to throw an effective changeup.

"Before, I didn't have too much confidence in my changeup," said Ramirez, who said he used the pitch a lot on Monday. "In a hitters' count, I wouldn't throw it. I was still shy. Mario encouraged me to keep throwing the changeup."

It has served Ramirez well so far this year. He was 0-1 with a 3.94 in three starts at Louisville, and struck out 15 without issuing a walk in 16 innings. He pitched six solid innings in his last outing, on Wednesday, and had a stretch in which he retired 14 of his first 15 batters in a no-decision.

"[Louisville manager] Rick Sweet said it was the best game he had ever seen him pitch," Narron said.

The timing of that start also proved to be opportune. When it was determined on Sunday that Eric Milton would need knee surgery, Ramirez was only real option to recall, since he could pitch on his usual four days' rest.

Soto had also been lobbying for the Reds to call up Ramirez.

"Mario has been working real hard with him," Narron said. "He really wanted him to come here and pitch."

It appears likely that Ramirez has earned himself another start in the Majors, and maybe more, as Milton is expected to miss at least three to four weeks.

It should be an "E.Z." decision, based on Monday's performance.

"You would think he gets another start," Narron said of Ramirez. "We'll see how it is on Sunday."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.