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Pitcher JC Ramírez’s returns to Angels with velocity that keyed success

A month playing in Mexico this winter and a long free agency brought pitcher JC Ramírez back to the Angels, a team that revived his major league career a few years ago.

The role of Ramírez, who spent most of last season rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery in April 2018, will be determined later. He said Friday he could start or pitch from the bullpen.

Perhaps the deciding factor will be velocity. Ramírez, 31, spent the offseason searching for the mid-to-high 90s fastball that made him a successful starter for the Angels in 2017. He struggled to regain it last summer as he attempted his comeback from elbow surgery.

He finally reached 96 mph as a starter for Culiacán in Mexico’s winter league, where he had a 3.92 ERA, struck out 29 and issued eight walks over seven starts.

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“The first couple games were like 92-93 and then as the games went on, my velo went up and my consistency was better,” Ramírez said. “That’s why I went there, to get my confidence back, to see if my velo was coming back.”

Ramírez, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, had never started in the major leagues before 2017. He previously pitched for four teams as a reliever. He hadn’t even started a minor league game after 2011. Because of how hard he could throw, he believed he was destined to be a closer.

Former Houston Astros pitcher Mike Fiers said he’s received death threats after exposing the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme.

The Angels intended to use Ramírez in the bullpen when they picked him off waivers in June 2016, but a lack of starting pitching depth in 2017 forced their hand. After an adjustment period, Ramírez ended the season with a 4.15 earned-run average in 147 1/3 innings.

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He was diagnosed with a full tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm in April 2018. Ramírez didn’t pitch in another MLB game until last July and was used out of the bullpen.

Because Ramírez struggled during his rehabilitation to regain form, the Angels decided stop stretching him out as a starter.

Ramírez, who averaged 91 mph in five MLB games, was removed from the Angels 40-man roster in August and released a few months later. He returned this week on a minor league deal.

“This guy is a specimen, man,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m eager to see him play and see where he’s at health-wise.”

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Short hops

A couple watching morning workouts asked Mike Trout and Justin Upton for help with a baby gender reveal. Trout flipped a ball to Upton, who smashed it with his bat to reveal a plume of pink dust. … Top prospects Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh will start Saturday against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Anaheim native Jose Rojas, in his first big league camp, also will play. … Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Upton, Albert Pujols and other top major league starters will begin appearing in Cactus League games Tuesday when the Angels host the Cincinnati Reds at Tempe Diablo Stadium.


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