In one year, JC Ramirez rose from a long reliever ceded on waivers by an awful team to become the Angels' most valuable starting pitcher in their surprise playoff run. Now, his next season is in question.
The 29-year-old right-hander told The Times on Wednesday that he has a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his right elbow. He is hoping a stem-cell injection will heal the tear.
Ramirez consulted with Angels starters Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney, both of whom had the same injury and underwent stem-cell therapy administered by the same person, Dr. Steven Yoon, last year. The treatment did not work for Heaney, and he later required surgery — known as Tommy John — to repair the tear. It did work for Richards, regenerating the torn area of the ligament. That encouraged Ramirez.
"We had the same symptoms," Ramirez said.
Ramirez first felt elbow discomfort while warming up for his fifth inning in Cleveland on July 27. He pushed through the pain and made four more starts, most of them effective, until he exited an Aug. 19 start in Baltimore because of what the Angels described as forearm irritation. An MRI exam the following week revealed the tear, and Ramirez soon received the stem-cell injection. He described it as "weird" and a "little bit painful."
"But you have to do it if you want to get healthy," he said.
The hope is he'll be cleared to resume throwing in November and pitch normally next season. If the stem cells do not take hold, his next step is not yet clear. Surgery would require him to miss all of 2018.
Ramirez finishes 2017 with a 4.15 earned-run average in 147 1/3 innings. He is 6-4, 250 pounds, and he throws harder than almost all of his starting peers.
Thanks to MLB's Super Two cut-off, he is likely to qualify for arbitration after this season, meaning his salary should more than double from the $550,000 he made in 2017.
The Nicaragua native had never started in the major leagues before this season. Until this spring training, he had not started a game at any level since 2011. He'd pitched for four teams since then, all of whom viewed him as a reliever.
The 2016 Cincinnati Reds, who had one of the worst bullpens in modern history, put Ramirez on waivers in June. The Angels claimed him, and he found success by increasing his two-seam fastball usage. Short on starters this year, they tried moving him into their rotation.