PORTLAND, Maine — It was just last July when Anthony Ranaudo was dragging himself through seven innings against the Trenton Thunder. It was the last start of a short season that had been so torn apart by injuries it seemed unsalvageable, and the radar gun seemed to be telling the Portland Sea Dogs righthander one lie after another.
“86,” it said.
“87,” it said.
“88,” it said.
Ranaudo knew his own power as much as anyone. It was a large part of what earned him a $2.55 million signing bonus with the Red Sox after he was taken with the 39th overall pick three years ago.
But the only response his fastball could get out of the radar gun was a cold, unimpressed stare.
“I never believed it,” he said. “Sometimes when the numbers kind of show some things, you kind of question things. But I know who I am.”
It wasn’t just what he had lost on his heater.
Between a groin injury, which kept him out of spring training, and shoulder fatigue that limited him to nine starts, poor health had smudged much of the shine Ranaudo had as one of the Red Sox’s top prospects.
A season with high expectations ended up as more of a lost year. He watched other prospects pass him by in the organization. It was a problem he knew only one answer to.
“I busted it this offseason,” he said.
The 2-0 start he’s off to this year — as well as the 1.15 ERA and the 17 strikeouts — are a direct result of Ranaudo rebuilding himself in the offseason.
The shoulder fatigue led him to get bigger, stronger. The Red Sox had approached him about putting more on his 6-foot-7-inch frame, because he weighed only 225-230 pounds. In the fall, he worked with the strength staff in Fort Myers and added 10 pounds. Then he went to Puerto Rico and put on another 10 before spring training.
Ranaudo also looked at what might have led to the groin injury. He started learning about hip flexibility and strengthening and how it all relates to other parts of his body.
In Portland, he has worked with the training staff to develop a routine that keeps him on the field, one that’s completely different from the one he kept a year ago.
“I learned a lot about myself through injuries and through performance, and ultimately that put me in the position I’m in this year,” Ranaudo said. “I’m a lot healthier, I’m a lot stronger. I put some really good weight on and I think that’s a big reason why I’ve been successful so far.”
Before his first start, he told Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper, “I’m in a pretty different place than I was the last time that I was on this field pitching.”
Spring training was when he first noticed his fastball start to catch the radar gun’s attention again. And over his first three outings, he has flirted with 96-97 miles per hour.
“It’s crazy to think that in less than a year my velocity’s up 10 miles an hour,” he said. “I’m healthy. I feel like a totally different pitcher.”
The list of improvements, minor and major, went beyond health and routine.
“He’s made improvements in his game, not because of someone else, but because of Anthony Ranaudo,” Kipper said. “You look at how he looks, that’s a byproduct of hard work from a strength and conditioning standpoint.
“When you look at the greater efficiency in his delivery, something we didn’t see last year, that’s a byproduct of hard work.’’
Bogaerts is back
Through his first 10 games, the numbers were nagging Portland shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
He was hitting .222 (10 of 45) with just two RBIs. None of his hits went for extra bases. With 14 strikeouts, he was fanning in 29 percent of his plate appearances.
“As you’re hitting, in the game, you see the numbers on the scoreboard,” Bogaerts said. “So, it messes you up sometimes.”
In the past eight games, though, things have begun to sort themselves out, as Bogaerts has gone 14 for 33 (.424) with six RBIs and six extra-base hits. His average on the season has ticked up to .308 and he has figured out his swing.
“Now it’s getting better,” he said. “At the beginning, I struggled a little bit, opening my front shoulder, trying to do too much maybe at the beginning.
“Later on, I just stayed more inside the ball and tried to recognize it better and not try to do too much. Just be more relaxed.”
“It’s never bad. I like to work. So I don’t have a problem with taking a lot of swings. I just had a problem with my timing, getting my timing right.”
Three to watch
Rubby De La Rosa: Pawtucket has taken a no-reason-to-rush approach, keeping him on a 50-pitch count. Things looked shaky in his first three starts, as he gave up a total of 10 earned runs, never getting through the third inning. But he tossed three scoreless innings against Buffalo Tuesday, giving up just one hit.
Jackie Bradley Jr.: Red Sox manager John Farrell said Bradley was nothing but class when he learned he would be sent down to Pawtucket after struggling through an 0-for-20 stretch in Boston. In his first six games with the PawSox, Bradley was 7 for 22 (.318).
Matt Barnes: The Portland righty maxed out his pitch count with 33 in the first inning of his first start, then gave up five earned runs over 2⅓ in the next, but sharpened things up in his most recent outing, striking out seven over 6⅓ innings of one-run ball.Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.