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June 27. 2013 11:26PM

Allan Lessels' On Baseball: Portland aces invite comparisons


Portand Sea Dogs pitchers Matt Barnes, left, and Anthony Ranaudo Thursday at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER

PORTLAND SEA DOGS right-handed power pitcher Anthony Ranaudo has heard the talk. He's aware of the comparisons.

And he tries to pay all of the above no heed.

"We heard a lot of comparisons especially when we started out this year," said Ranaudo after doing his between-start throwing at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on Thursday night prior to the team's series opener against the Fisher Cats. "We started out pretty well and there were some comparisons. . . . You can't worry about it. But it's pretty cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys."

The guys in question? Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester: a couple of pitchers who passed through Portland several years ago — they put up huge numbers in 2005 as members of the Sea Dog starting rotation — on their way to a little success you perhaps have heard of in the big leagues.

Ranaudo and Matt Barnes, another power righty, generally are at the root of the chatter. Left-hander Drake Britton, Thursday night's starter, and righty Brandon Workman, who was with the team at the start of the year and has moved on to Pawtucket and Triple-A, add to the conversation, too.

Barnes is due to face Deck McGuire and the Fisher Cats at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on Saturday night at 7:05. Ranaudo, who's having a big-time bounce-back season after a rough and injury-plagued 2012, gets the start opposite Ryan Tepera in Sunday's 1:35 p.m. matinee.

Ranaudo and Barnes are both recent first-round draft choices. Ranaudo was picked 39th overall as a sandwich pick out of Louisiana State University in 2010 and Barnes was pick No. 19 overall out of UConn in 2011.

Ranuado is listed as the No. 5 Red Sox prospect in the minor leagues by the website soxprospects.com and Barnes is right behind at No. 6.

Barnes, who turned 23 earlier this month and is from Bethel, Conn., is listed at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. Ranaudo, who will be 24 in September, dwarfs him at 6-foot-7 and 245-250 pounds Both draw raves for their explosive fastballs, abilities and approach from Sea Dog pitching coach Bob Kipper.

"These guys are a pleasure to work with," Kipper said. "They've got incredible makeup and they're truly committed to their opportunity to play baseball. There's a lot of things you like about them. And they're physical guys. When you ask, 'What does a major league pitcher look like?' You go, 'They look like that.'" Barnes is in his second full pro season and first at Double-A.

"It's been a season of ups and downs," Barnes said. "I've thrown some good outings together and I've had some bad ones together. It's just trying to find a level of consistency here and just keep working hard and hopefully we can string some more good ones together. That would be good."

Barnes had one of his best results last time out at Trenton on Sunday. He gave up three hits in five innings and struck out eight, but did walk a season-high five batters.

He got the win to even his record at 4-4. He has a 5.03 earned run average and has struck out 78 and walked 23 in 62 2/3 innings.

Most things have gone well for Ranaudo this year after a rough Double-A debut season a year ago.

"You can't evaluate Anthony Ranaudo last year," Kipper said. "He was struggling with nagging injuries all year and what he's done is, he's turned the page on last year."

Has he ever.

A hip injury and then fatigue slowed Ranaudo last year and he made only nine starts and went 1-3 with a 6.69 ERA. He pitched only 37 and two-third innings and allowed 41 hits and struck out 27 and walked the same.

This year, he's 7-2 with a 2.28 ERA in 14 starts and has allowed 50 hits through 79 innings. He's struck out 86 and walked 27.

His velocity was down and he had trouble getting into the 90s last year and is usually back around 93-96 with his fastball this year, he said. Adding about 20 good pounds since last season has helped.

He's clearly re-established himself as a top Red Sox prospect and the speculation has been that he may be moving up the Red Sox ladder sooner than later.

Ranaudo and his rotation mates don't spend much time worrying about that, either.

"I can't say I want to be there at this time or that because it doesn't matter," Ranaudo said. "They're going to call me when they need me or want me to be there. All I can do is make the most of where I'm at."

Barnes will try to do that on Saturday. Ranaudo on Sunday.

alessels@unionleader.com on twitter: @allenlessels


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