Angels’ JC Ramirez will pitch in relief upon return from injured list

Angels relief pitcher J.C. Ramirez warms up during spring training on Feb. 24 at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A grueling 15-month rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery will not end at the preferred destination for JC Ramirez. The veteran right-hander hoped to return as a starter by the end of July, but manager Brad Ausmus said Ramirez will pitch out of the bullpen, at least initially.

“We’re comfortable with the rotation right now,” Ausmus said Thursday. “That being said, I still look at JC as a guy who can start. None of these decisions are permanent. This is just the direction we’re taking right now.”

Ramirez went 11-10 with a 4.15 ERA in 27 games — 24 starts — for the Angels in 2017. But as he nears the end of his second 30-day rehab stint, it is becoming clear Ramirez has not yet found the form that made him a reliable starter two years ago.

Ramirez, 30, acknowledged that his slider “is not that sharp yet” and that he has not regained full velocity of a fastball that averaged 95.6 mph over his five-year big league career.

Ramirez was built up as a starter at triple-A Salt Lake, extending to or past the 80-pitch mark five times, but he went 1-2 with a 7.47 ERA in his first seven games in which he struck out 17, walked 14, hit four batters and allowed six homers in 31 1/3 innings.

The Angels’ five-game winning streak came to an end in a 11-2 loss to the Houston Astros, started by Felix Peña, who did not build on his no-hitter.

The Angels dialed Ramirez back to three innings and 45 pitches on Wednesday night, when Ramirez gave up three earned runs and four hits, struck out three and walked none against Sacramento. His fastball ranged from 90-93 mph. His next rehab appearance will be of similar length but for Class-A Inland Empire.

“I want to be a starter, but I’ll do whatever they want me to do,” Ramirez said.


The Angels, still reeling from the July 1 death of left-hander Tyler Skaggs, appear to have bigger holes in the rotation — which consists of Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning, Matt Harvey, Felix Pena and either Jose Suarez or Jaime Barria — than the bullpen, but Ramirez must prove he is a better rotation option.

“I’m in the process of getting back to where I was in 2017, so I’m not worried about results,” Ramirez said. “Of course, you want to pitch well to get your confidence back, but if you don’t have your slider, and you’re still working on your fastball velocity, it’s tough to put everything together.”

Opposing viewpoint

The commissioner’s office clearly felt the Noe Ramirez pitch that hit Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick in the upper back on Tuesday night was intentional.

The Angels reliever was slapped with a three-game suspension, which he is appealing, and Ausmus served a one-game suspension Wednesday for his role in the benches-clearing incident.

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But Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy didn’t necessarily believe Ramirez was retaliating for Marisnick’s role in the violent July 7 home-plate collision that sent Lucroy to the injured list with a concussion and a broken nose.

“Things happen — the ball got away from Noe,” Lucroy said. “If we’re going to hit a guy on purpose, doing it with Noe Ramirez throwing 89 mph wouldn’t be the guy, for me.

“But it happened, and it’s over with. Guys got suspended and fined and everything else. And our manager is back tonight, which is good. It should be over with on both sides. It should be. It better be.”

Short hops

The entire team is expected to attend a private memorial service for Skaggs on Monday, an off-day before a two-game series in Dodger Stadium. . . . Barria will be recalled from triple-A and start Friday. . . . The Angels recalled right-hander Jake Jewell from triple-A and optioned right-hander Luke Bard, who threw 46 pitches over 2 2/3 innings on Wednesday night, back to Salt Lake.