Ramirez prepares to break out of bullpen

March 11th, 2017
JC Ramirez is making the move from the bullpen to the rotation this spring. He also added a curveball this offseason. (AP)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- JC Ramirez admits he was surprised when the Angels initially approached him about coming into Spring Training as a starter this year.

"It did surprise me a little bit because I never thought they'd view me as a starter and have me pitch five, six innings," Ramirez said Friday in Spanish. "It did surprise me a lot."

Ramirez, 28, had started games at the beginning of his career, but he had not been in a rotation since 2011, when he was a Minor Leaguer in the Phillies' organization. He had worked exclusively in relief since breaking into the Majors in 2013, and pitched well out of the bullpen for the Angels after they claimed him off waivers from the Reds last June.

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But the Angels looked at Ramirez's upper 90s fastball and his ability to control the strike zone, and decided to throw him into the mix for their fifth-starter competition this spring. Ramirez, who posted a 2.91 ERA in 46 1/3 innings for the Halos in 2016, could have a hard time cracking the rotation given the long list of candidates the Angels are considering for the spot, but he has a good chance of winning a bullpen job, since he's out of options.

"The guy has a tremendous arm, and you saw the way he threw the ball the second half of the season for us," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think he's finding some things, and if he can convert over to being a starter, he'll obviously be very important to our depth. If not, his stuff plays in the bullpen, too. But I think he's mentally wrapped his arms around it. He's fine with it. He's got a chance to be a good starter."

Ramirez, who has relied primary on his fastball and slider in his career, said he added a curveball to his repertoire in the offseason to give himself another weapon. He said he was finally able to throw the new pitch for a strike in his start against the Padres on Friday, when he allowed four runs on three hits, including two home runs, over four innings in the Angels' 4-2 loss at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

"I wanted to put something new in my repertoire, something that could help me," Ramirez said. "The established pitchers in the big leagues all have three, four pitches, so I wanted to give myself another way to get outs."

Ramirez said that he doesn't have much of a preference when it comes to working as a starter or a reliever, adding that he's willing to accept whatever role the Angels give him.

"I just want to be on the team, help the team get some wins," Ramirez said. "Whatever they decide for me, I'll be ready, whether it's in the bullpen or in the starting rotation."