FORT MYERS, Fla. — Anthony Ranaudo is 6 feet 7 inches and 245 pounds. Yet Red Sox pitching coaches wanted him to be more of a physical presence on the mound last season.
That wouldn’t seem to make much sense given his imposing size. But because Ranaudo is so big, his delivery to the plate was slow and easier for hitters to time.
“Body language goes a long way in this game,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “Sometimes there are those [pitchers] who give a comfortable at-bat versus others who don’t give a comfortable at-bat.”
To make it tougher on the hitters, Ranaudo picked up the pace. A style he described as “kind of robotic” gained better pace.
“I tried to keep the rhythm and timing more upbeat,” Ranaudo said. “Given my size, I’m never going to be too quick, so I keep that context in mind. Too quick is never really an issue for me. Catch the ball and come right back at them. Be aggressive with my fastball and pitch inside.
“My velocity spiked up a little because of that. It was all positives. Our theme all year was rhythm, timing, and tempo. Those were my three key words.”
The new approach has worked. Ranaudo made his spring training debut with the Red Sox Friday and threw two perfect innings in an 8-2 loss against the Minnesota Twins.
Ranaudo struck out four — all swinging — and got two weakly hit balls back to the mound. Of his 24 pitches, 19 were strikes.
It was a vivid reminder of why Ranaudo was the 39th overall selection in 2010 out of LSU and was signed for a $2.5 million bonus.
“He’s got everything you’re looking for in a starting pitcher with power stuff,” Farrell said.
Ranaudo dropped in the draft because of an elbow injury at LSU. Health issues then limited him to nine starts in 2012. But he rebuilt his reputation last season, going 11-5 with a 2.96 earned run average in 25 appearances for Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket. He also started two postseason games for the PawSox.
Now, in his first taste of major league spring training, Ranaudo looks ready to take another step.
“I was very impressed with Anthony,” catcher David Ross said. “He did a great job.”
Ross cautioned that Ranaudo got away with some high fastballs, something that usually isn’t the case. But he moved the ball from side to side well and wasn’t afraid to challenge hitters.
“I need to keep the ball down better than I did,” Ranaudo said. “I know that. It’ll get better. I was a little lucky today.”
Catcher Christian Vazquez has played with Ranaudo since 2011. He sees a different pitcher than the one the Red Sox drafted.
“His fastball command is better now, much more consistent,” Vazquez said. “He’s got a lot of talent and the fastball is there. But he’s learned more how to pitch. I like catching him because he wants to go after the hitter now.”
Ranaudo is in major league spring training for the first time, having been added to the 40-man roster during the winter. Farrell has watched to see how the adjustment goes.
“Just the way he’s walking around here, he’s not in awe of the situation,” Farrell said. “He’s not intimidated by anything. That’s just his continued growth and confidence.”
Ranaudo shared an apartment in Portland last season with fellow pitchers Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman. Seeing Workman make his way to the Red Sox and then pitch well in the postseason serves as motivation.
“I need to keep taking what made me successful last year and carry that into this season,” Ranaudo said. “I got a little fatigued at the end of the year because I didn’t throw a lot of innings [in 2012]. But it was a big turning point for me.
“It was nice getting that confidence back and knowing I still have that power fastball. I was myself again.”
Outside of Ranaudo, the Grapefruit League opener was a dud for the Red Sox, who were held to five hits after a long pregame ceremony that included the three World Series trophies being carried into the field.
“It was fun for me to start a game like this,” said Ranaudo. “I know it’s spring training but I was out there for the first game and there was a big crowd. It makes me think I’m getting close to where I want to be.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.