CHICAGO — Having spent most of his career as a reliever, LHP Cesar Ramos knows well — better than any of the other starters — how important it would be to provide some relief for the overworked bullpen.
Coming off Sunday's five-inning outing against the Yankees, Ramos plans to use the same aggressive approach when he starts tonight against the White Sox with an eye on working deeper into the game.
"I'm anxious to get back out there and hopefully give us a chance to win and eat up some innings," Ramos said. "Hopefully I can do what I did last time and be efficient with my pitches."
The difference was stark between Sunday and Ramos' first start, April 13 in Cincinnati, when he was pulled two batters into the third after allowing four runs on three hits and three walks and throwing 47 pitches.
Against the Yankees, he allowed just one run on four hits and a walk, and got through five innings on 53 pitches. The improvement?
"I just attacked the zone, and I pitched with my fastball," Ramos said. "I felt like I didn't pitch so much with my fastball the first time out in Cincy. But I think this last time, I just really made an emphasis to get my fastball over for strikes and just getting ahead in the count and opening up the strike zone.
"When the pitcher's ahead, the hitters expand the strike zone. When they're ahead, the strike zone shrinks."
With RHPs Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson sidelined at least another month by injury and LHP Matt Moore done for the season following elbow surgery, the Rays are giving Ramos, along with veteran LHP Erik Bedard, the chance to claim spots in the rotation. But two prospects, RHP Nathan Karns and LHP Enny Romero, are potential candidates to replace then.
Tonight, Ramos will have to contend with a hot-hitting White Sox team, which entered Friday first in the AL (and second overall) with 125 runs, as well as cold weather. The weather.com forecast for first pitch was 43 degrees, with a feels-like of 36 and dropping.
Ramos, a native of Southern California, has a simple plan: "(The hitters) don't want to be out there, either. So just throw strikes and try to get us off the field as quickly as possible to stay warm."
ZIMMER UPDATE: Senior adviser Don Zimmer remains hospitalized in St. Petersburg following April 16 heart surgery to repair a leaky valve. Zimmer, 83, is on a ventilator, son Tom said, but making slow progress toward breathing on his own.
PENNED IN: The Rays have limited options to provide relief for their tired bullpen, with less flexibility to call up a fresh arm from Triple-A Durham as they did earlier.
That's because with RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo activated from the DL, the only reliever who has an option and can be sent straight to the minors is RHP Brandon Gomes, whom they value for his ability to work multiple innings.
Though out-of-options RHP Josh Lueke has struggled — allowing six of seven inherited runners to score and a 4.05 ERA overall — it does not appear the Rays are considering cutting him loose.
STARRY-EYED: Online voting for the July 15 All-Star Game started Friday. Rays on the ballot are C Ryan Hanigan, 1B James Loney, 2B Ben Zobrist, SS Yunel Escobar, 3B Evan Longoria, DH Matt Joyce and OFs David DeJesus, Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers. Go to mlb.com.
THE DO-RUN: The Rays went into Friday with only eight steals, their fewest through 22 games and tied for second fewest in the majors.
"It's the evolution of the Rays," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just a different team. You have one legitimate threat on the team (Jennings), where in the past we may have had four or five. So you don't try to put a square peg in a round hole. You don't want to just force it or run yourselves into outs just because you want to steal more bases."
MISCELLANY: In the second inning, Zobrist extended the Rays' streak of doubling to 23 games, five shy of the AL mark to start a season, shared by the 2006 Indians and 2012 Royals. … Joyce entered Friday leading the AL with a 1.043 on-base plus slugging percentage.