At 3 p.m. Wednesday, JC Ramirez pulled on his baseball pants, laced up his cleats, buttoned his uniform, buckled his belt, and headed for the bullpen behind left field at Angel Stadium.
This between-starts bullpen session, 75 hours before Ramirez took the mound Saturday against the Boston Red Sox, was not going to be a normal shorts-and-shirt bullpen session.
“Treat it like a game,” Ramirez said, scrunching his face and pointing two fingers to his eyes. “Stay focused.”
The Nicaraguan right-hander is new to the realm of starting pitching, so he has used this season as his study hall. More than a month into his new gig, he learned he was warming up too early before games and was tired in the first inning. Now he has sensed a need to increase his overall intensity, so he is going treat the standard sessions as if they matter a great deal.
“At the beginning, I threw bullpens just to feel the ball, to throw strikes,” Ramirez said. “Now, it’s more like: OK, this is game time.”
Whether his strategy helped Saturday was unclear, as he hurled an imperfect outing. But the six innings he supplied aided the Angels on their way to a 7-3 victory at Angel Stadium that preserved their playoff positioning for another day.
The Angels (48-51) are 31/2 games behind wild-card qualification. Seven games remain before the July 31 trade deadline.
Charged with three runs, one earned, in his six innings, Ramirez lowered his ERA in 19 starts to a respectable 4.34.
Right away, Ramirez issued a one-out walk to Andrew Benintendi. He then missed with all four pitches to Dustin Pedroia and slapped his right hand on his glove in frustration. Up next, Hanley Ramirez poked a slider into right field for a run-scoring single.
To begin the Angels’ first, Yunel Escobar tried to check his swing on a biting 2-and-2 cutter from Red Sox starter David Price. First-base umpire Vic Carapazza ruled that he did not succeed, and Escobar flung his hand in disbelief.
On a potential double play in the second inning, Ramirez started late on his way to cover first base, and he missed Simmons’ throw that would have secured the inning’s second out. He said later that evening shadows obscured his view. One out later, Mookie Betts stroked a double into right field. Ben-intendi sliced a first-pitch curveball into left, scoring another.
Ramirez’s error was the Angels’ first since June 30, which ended a club record of 14 consecutive error-less games.
With a man on and one out in the third, Mike Trout forced Price into another extended at-bat before drawing a nine-pitch walk. Albert Pujols stroked a double into left field, cutting the Angels’ deficit to 3-2.
Andrelton Simmons swatted the next pitch into the third row of the left-field seats. The two-run home run permanently pushed the Angels ahead 4-3.
Simmons singled in another run in the fifth. And when Martin Maldonado followed with a routine grounder to shortstop, Xander Bogaerts inexplicably attempted a force at second, though Simmons had been running on the pitch. Bogaerts’ toss missed Pedroia at second base, and the Angels had a sixth run. They made it seven in the sixth.
After Benintendi’s second-inning single, Ramirez retired 12 consecutive Red Sox. He struck out the side in the fifth, the latter two on called strikeouts, which angered Boston manager John Farrell. Pedroia didn’t complain to home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi about an inning-ending ruling, but Farrell did, and Cuzzi quickly ejected him.
Bogaerts doubled to snap Ramirez’s streak with two outs in the sixth, prompting action in the Angels’ bullpen. When Mitch Moreland walked, pitching coach Charles Nagy visited the mound, but Ramirez got to face one more batter, and he induced a low liner from Christian Vazquez that Trout speared to cap the inning and Ramirez’s night.
“That was huge,” Ramirez said. “I was getting tired that inning.”
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura