Last May when LA Angels pitcher JC Ramirez learned that he needed Tommy John surgery he was hopeful that he would come as strong as he was before. Unfortunately so far for Ramirez that hasn’t happened.
When LA Angels pitcher JC Ramirez got on the mound for the first time in 14 months on May 30th for the Inland Empire 66ers he was excited to finally be back. He pitched just 1.2 innings and gave up three runs including two home runs. Ramirez was happy to be back, but the one thing that was missing was his velocity, which commonly reached between 95 and 97 before the surgery. On this first appearance he was throwing 88 to 91 MPH.
Maybe it was a case of first game jitters, or just not being quite in sync after such a long lay off. The good thing is that Ramirez felt no pain in his right elbow. So off he went to Salt Lake City to make another rehab start or two. However the same problem kept on happening and Ramirez struggled on the mound. Ramirez made eight starts in Salt Lake some were okay, but most of them were just like his first outing in Inland Empire.
In first nine rehab starts Ramirez had a 8.00 ERA in 36 innings of work. The velocity only improved a tick throwing his fastball velocity was between 90 and 92 MPH, still a far cry from where he had been in April of 2018. So the Angels, their doctors, and Ramirez discussed the options and it was decided to send Ramirez back to SIngle-A Inland Empire again and also cut his work load in half.
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Ramirez had been stretched out to throwing up to 90 pitches in his last few rehab outings, so the thought was putting less stress on his arm by throwing less pitches that maybe the velocity would return. So off Ramirez went to San Bernardino to face the Modesto Nuts on Sunday evening.
“Today my arm felt very good. After every inning I didn’t feel any pain and it still feels strong,” Ramirez said. “That’s the reason why I’m dropping down my pitch count right now is that I’m trying to get my velo up. It’s (velocity) been like that my whole rehab outings that I have been throwing. I think if I have short outings it will be back to where it was before.”
Ramirez came out in the first inning and struggled a bit throwing 18 pitches with only 10 being strikes. He gave up one walk, but no hits or runs with his fastest pitch being 90 MPH. He did record one strikeout as well. In his second inning of work Ramirez’s second pitch, an 82 MPH change-up was tattooed Keegan McGovern launched it well over the right field wall for a solo home run. Ramirez’s settled down recording three outs on only seven more pitches to end his second inning of work.
In the third inning Ramirez retired the first batter on a line drive that the 66ers 2nd baseman Michael Stefanic leaped up and snared. He then gave up a single before bouncing back striking out Jospeh Rosa on a 1-2 curve ball that the bottom fell out of for the second out. Ramirez then worked the count to 3-2 on Joe Rizzo with his 45th pitch and like clockwork 66ers manager Ryan Barba bounced out of the dugout and removed Ramirez in favor of Nate Bertness who retired Rizzo with a pop-out for the third out.
“There was a couple of mistakes I made. I got a change-up up in the zone that he hit the home run on. The other hard hit balls were on fastballs,” Ramirez said. “I have confidence with my fastball command and my curve is working really well right now.”
When asked if it has been difficult to spend close to two months rehabbing, Ramirez said he is taking it in stride. “It’s not hard I just want to get it right. I want to get on my level so I can be 100% when I get back to the big leagues,” Ramirez said. “Sometimes people only take three outings, for me it is taking longer, but I just want to get it right.”
The Angels were hoping Ramirez could possibly fill in a hole in the starting left by both the death of Tyler Skaggs and the injury to Andrew Heaney. Now it looks like Ramirez will be used in the bullpen instead which will still be helpful to an Angel team that has had to use their bullpen extensively thus far. The Angels have to make a decision again in the next week as to how to use Ramirez when he returns.
“For right now they have shortened my outings so I can be a bullpen guy when I get back in order to give my arm more rest,” Ramirez said. “I like to start because it’s my day you know, but for now I’m going to my best out of the bullpen.”
Ramirez is anxious to get back to the Angels so he can help a pitching staff that has been decimated by injuries. It is something he has been looking forward to for a long time.
“It’s been hard for everyone on the team with all the injuries and losing Tyler. You just have to keep going and try to win some games until everyone gets healthy,” Ramirez said. “For me to get back will be awesome. I have been waiting for this moment. It’s been rough the last two months of rehabbing. I thought it would be easier, but it wasn’t. I just have to keep working hard and be ready for when I come back.”
Just like in the case of Keynan Middleton, Ramirez was not with the Angels when Tyler Skaggs passed away which was very hard for him to deal with.
“It was very hard because i had played with him for three seasons. He was always encouraging to me,”Ramirez said. “Not to be with the team on those days kind of hit me when I was in my hotel room just thinking about him and wishing I was there with my teammates. That was the hardest thing.”
With where Ramirez has come from since being signed by the Angels in the middle of 2017 when he was put on waivers by the Reds, these minor setbacks should be just a blip on the screen.
“It meant a lot to me that Billy Eppler and Mike Scioscia gave me the opportunity to throw. They told me to just be yourself, get your confidence back,” Ramirez.said. “I’m just thankful that they gave me the chance to show what I could do at this level. I want to get back and do it for them.”
JC Ramirez is one of very few players that have made it to the majors from Nicaragua and that is important to him and also getting a chance to mentor the young players on the 66ers is also something Ramirez’s relishes.
“Every Latino kid is a dream to make it to the majors. Coming from such a little country that not many players are playing in the sport is special,” Ramirez said. “When I go back to my country, I get a chance to talk to the kids who are trying to make it feels really, really good. I try to do the same thing while I’m here (Inland Empire),, but it’s hard because I’m only here for one day, but I try to let them know that they can ask me any questions and I will try and help them.”
After Ramirez left the game he did not go to the clubhouse right away instead he chose to stay in the dugout with his 66ers teammates and his presence possibly inspired the team as they erupted for nine runs over the next three innings with Ramirez watching and cheering them on.
With the score tied at one in the fourth Gleyvin Pineda hit a trio-run double to give the 66ers a 3-1 lead. Then in the 6th inning Pineda came up again with a chance to do damage and smacked another run-scoring double to make it 5-1. Two batters later Leonardo Rivas came through with his second hit of the game, a double that scored Ryan Scott and the 66ers were cruising up 8-1.
Rivas just got back from an extended absence due to injury and was happy to be able to contribute to the team.
“I’m glad to be back finally and excited to be able to play again. I love playing the game. I always try to do my best to help the team win and I was able to get some good hits tonight,” said Rivas who is the 24th ranked prospect in the Angels system. “It was a very difficult period, but I just stay focused and persevered and was able to get through it with the help of my coaches and everyone around helped me get back to where I wanted to be.”
On the mound another Angels top 30 prospect, Kyle Bradish, continued to be impressive pitching six shutout innings in relief of Ramirez to get the victory. Bradish gave up only three hits with no walks and struck out five Modesto Nuts batters. Bradish has put together three strong outings where he has limited his walks and has been able to get into the 6th inning in all three of them after not doing so in his previous six starts.
So overall it was a good night in San Bernardino and hopefully JC Ramirez will continue to progress and get back to the majors soon.