Real Deal Neil: Ramirez could create tough roster call for Cubs

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Neil Ramirez pitching this spring.

MESA, Ariz. – Right-hander Neil Ramirez is quickly becoming one of the most interesting roster decisions the Cubs might have to face in the next two weeks.

Barring injury to one of the seven pitchers who appear set in the Cubs’ opening-roster plans, Ramirez is vying this spring for what would be an eighth bullpen job that manager Joe Maddon said he’s not even sure the team will have.

The 25th roster spot looks like a decision between that eighth reliever and a fifth bench player.

Adding intrigue to the process is the fact that Ramirez – who posted a 1.44 ERA as a rookie in 2014 before shoulder troubles waylaid his 2015 season – is out of options.

And the way he looks right now, he won’t clear waivers if the Cubs can’t find a spot on their Opening Day roster for him.

“I don’t think about that kind of stuff,” said Ramirez, who struck out all three batters he faced in his most recent outing, Tuesday. “Those things are just: `Why?’ You can’t control them. You can’t do anything about it, so why put that in your head?”

He did enough of that last year, he said, getting caught up in the talk of his rookie year and his ceiling as he came to camp.

“I know everybody talks about the velocity and stuff like that,” said the power pitcher. “It kind of got in my head last year, and I started worrying about it, and tried to focus too much on that and not just going out there and competing.”

It might have been especially damaging for a guy who already had a history of shoulder stability issues he spent much of last year on and continues manage with a personal routine.

“He’s doing really well right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s pitching right now. I’ve always told guys, `You’re already signed; don’t worry about the [radar] gun anymore. Just get guys out. If you get guys out, nobody’s going to care.’

“I think he’s starting to figure it out.”

Which can only make the decision in two weeks tougher if the seven already in the pen are healthy and pitching well and if, say, outfielder Shane Victorino is back strong and performing well after the calf soreness that has sidelined him for the past week.

“When you get a guy that’s as good as he is and he’s out of options, it’s always tough,” Maddon said.

Ramirez, 26, seems at peace with the process: “I feel that kind of stuff just works itself out.”

He’s also moved past that sense of trying to prove – or reprove — something.

As long as he’s healthy, he said, “I know what I can do.”

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