Angels right-hander JC Ramirez had pitched in 111 major league games before Friday night at Kauffman Stadium. But this gusty Midwestern night marked his first career start, so he quickly noticed when an Angels reliever began to warm as he struggled along in the third inning.
"Oh, starting is not easy," Ramirez said he thought. "Because I'm in the bullpen, I know that it sucks for us when the starting pitcher doesn't go that far."
He told himself then to trust his breaking balls, and finished two more innings without trouble. But by then it was far too late. He had given up five runs in the first third of the game, and the Angels fell 7-1 to Kansas City. The 28-year-old's starting debut was a failure.
"Too many fastballs," Ramirez said. "I know I've got good velocity, but they're good hitters, too."
Two pitches into his first inning, Ramirez served up a single to Alex Gordon. Mike Moustakas hit Ramirez's next pitch, a middle-middle fastball, for a two-run home run.
Then, in the second inning, a walk, a single, a sacrifice bunt, and a wild pitch produced a run. In the third, a walk, a double, a groundout and a sacrifice fly produced two.
Ordinarily, right fielder Kole Calhoun would have caught the double, but he took an indirect route to the baseball, hopped, and missed it by a few feet. The mistake by the typically elite defender cost the Angels two runs.
"It was windy, but it's not like I don't know that," Calhoun said. "I didn't think he hit the ball as well as he did. I saw it the whole way. I took a couple hard steps in, and before I knew it, I've gotta jump and the ball's over my head. It fooled me."
The Angels managed little against Kansas City ace left-hander Danny Duffy, and what little they did was early. To begin, Yunel Escobar singled through the middle, Calhoun walked on four pitches, and Mike Trout singled. Escobar scored, but Lorenzo Cain threw out Calhoun trying for third.
"You kinda want to push the envelope early in the game," Calhoun said. "He had to make a great throw, and he did."
Said Trout: "That's one of those times where you take a chance and you get thrown out."
Duffy, a Lompoc, Calif., native, blended his sharp slider with a changeup and two fastballs. He struck out six Angels and walked two. After the first inning, the Angels produced only two more hits, both singles. At one point, the Royals had set down 13 consecutive men.
Behind Ramirez, right-hander Deolis Guerra served up a solo shot to Salvador Perez in the sixth inning. Kansas City native Mike Morin handled the seventh and the eighth, as the Angels' relievers continued to pitch better than their starting brethren. Through 11 games, Angels starters have logged a 6.27 earned-run average, worst in the major leagues.
Ramirez is one of three native Nicaraguans in the majors, and one of the others, infielder Cheslor Cuthbert, is a Royal. That the two players could match up in Ramirez's first career start was a big deal in the Central American country of 6 million people.
"Everyone back home is waiting for that moment, for Nicaraguans to face each other," Cuthbert said before Friday's game. "They're excited for that."
The moment did not happen. Cuthbert did not start, and Ramirez did not last long enough to face any pinch-hitters. But the two are friends dating to a decade ago in Managua, the country's capital and Ramirez's hometown. At 15, Cuthbert moved from a remote island to the capital to train and attract attention from scouts. There, he met Ramirez, then a 19-year-old Seattle Mariners pitching prospect. He was a starter then, but moved to the bullpen after 2011, and didn't start another game until this spring, at the Angels' request.
Now, improbably, he's in their rotation, replacing the injured Garrett Richards.
"I'm really excited for him, for this opportunity the Angels are giving to him," Cuthbert said.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he expects the opportunity to continue. The club does not have any other obvious candidates to start major league games. Ramirez would next face Houston on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park.