What Losing J.C. Ramírez Means for Los Angeles Angels

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 07: Manager Mike Scioscia, Luis Valbuena
ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 07: Manager Mike Scioscia, Luis Valbuena /

On Monday, the Los Angeles Angels announced that J.C. Ramirez would be done for the season. The injury he suffered towards the end of the season last year will now end his season this year. For both Ramírez and the Angels, the impacts will be significant.

Off to a quick start 8-3, the Los Angeles Angels have been doing it with offense: through the first two weeks of the season, the Angel offense has averaged over six runs a game and lead the American League in both batting average and slugging percentage. What they haven’t done is pitch: they’ve gotten the second-fewest innings out of their starters, and are using nearly five relievers per game. With bullpen overuse becoming an issue — and with the bullpen not being particularly talented to begin with — the Angels needed a starter not named Shohei Ohtani to step up.

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Ramírez was supposed to be one of those guys, but he’s been completely terrible thus far this season. In two starts, he’s only managed 6.2 innings while allowing seven earned runs. His mid-90s fastball was barely touching 90, and he couldn’t find the strike zone at all. Now, he’s done, gone for the season, joining Andrew Heaney and Matt Shoemaker as the third Angel starter to hit the disabled list since before the start of the season. The Angels will rely on 21-year-old Jaime Barria to fill in until either Heaney and/or Shoemaker returns from the DL. With Parker Bridwell completely unimpressive in his one outing before being sent back to the minors, the six-man rotation the Angels had hoped to run with a rough time even finding four and five guys who can get into the fifth inning.

Last season, the then-27-year-old Ramírez stepped in and provided the Angels with a badly needed boost to the rotation. In 24 starts between mid-April to mid-August, while the other members of the rotation were either falling onto the DL or trying to return from it, Ramírez didn’t miss a rotation start as he posted a solid 4.11 ERA and 142 sorely needed starters’ innings. Flashing a mid-90s fastball, a nasty slider, and impressive composure, Ramírez staked his claim to a promotion from the bullpen to a permanent spot in the rotation.

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Then in seventh inning of his August 21st start against the Orioles, Ramírez was pulled with what the Angels then described as “forearm irritation,” which MRIs later revealed to be a strain to his ulnar collateral ligament. UCL tears almost automatically means Tommy John surgery and a year of rehab. Rather than have surgery, Ramírez did what Heaney and Garrett Richards elected for in the winter of 2016, an experimental combination of stem cell injections and platelet rich plasma cocktails applied to the injured ligament.

The experimental procedure seems to have failed completely. Richards returned last season, but was pulled in the middle of his first start due to arm discomfort and didn’t pitch again until September. Heaney’s UCL didn’t respond to the treatment at all, and he ended up needed TJ surgery and didn’t return but for a handful of starts in late August and early September before being shut down completely. Now with Ramírez slated for surgery as well, it’s doubtful the Angels — or any other major league team — will want their pitchers attempting experimental procedures in the near future.

Ramírez’s injury means that the Angel rotation, which planned on being six men deep, now only Ohtani, Richards, and Tyler Skaggs. There’s no telling how long Barria, who will make his big league debut on Wednesday after just four starts above Double-A, will stay with the club. Nick Tropeano, another starter coming back from TJ surgery, pitched last Friday for the first time since 2016, going 3.2 innings for Triple-A Salt Lake. The Angels would no doubt prefer to ease him back, but with all the injuries going around, that may have to change. As of this writing, the Angels have no starter announced for Thursday or Friday.

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With Felix Peña and Eduardo Paredes called up push the bullpen to nine bodies, it’s possible that Thursday’s game will be a full on bullpen experience. Heaney threw a strong six-plus innings last Friday, was reported healthy afterwards, and could be made available for either Thursday or Friday against Kansas City, with Richards starting Saturday and Ohtani on Sunday as the Angels search for some rotation equilibrium.

For J.C. Ramírez, however, the season is over.