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Ramirez shines in first Cactus League test

Angels' righty allows 1 hit in 2 scoreless innings vs. Giants
Special to MLB.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- JC Ramirez's return to game action could not have gone much better.

Ramirez threw all of his pitches and threw them for strikes in two scoreless innings of the Angels' 11-4 win over the Giants on Thursday that included a two-run homer by 2016 No. 1 Draft pick Matt Thaiss.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- JC Ramirez's return to game action could not have gone much better.

Ramirez threw all of his pitches and threw them for strikes in two scoreless innings of the Angels' 11-4 win over the Giants on Thursday that included a two-run homer by 2016 No. 1 Draft pick Matt Thaiss.

It was a strong signal that the stem-cell therapy Ramirez received late last season to repair a partial tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament was successful. After the game, Ramirez said the words the Angels wanted to hear.

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"I feel strong. I feel normal. I feel like I'm back," he said.

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Ramirez has thrown two live bullpen sessions this spring, but he said game conditions are the final test.

"Exactly, because you want to see the hitters," Ramirez said. "I wanted to feel the adrenaline. It was there, but I controlled that. I was ready to go."

Ramirez gave up an opposite-field single to Giants leadoff man Joe Panik before retiring the final six Giants he faced.

He threw first-pitch strikes to six of seven batters, struck out one and ended the outing by fielding a weak chopper back to the mound. He buried a curve in the dirt to strike out Nick Hundley leading off the second inning.

Ramirez used his slider, his curve and his two- and four-seam fastballs while pitching solely from the stretch, where he feels most comfortable. He said he plans to use the curveball more against right-handed hitters this year.

It was a nice return for the right-hander who bailed out the injury-challenged Angels rotation last season.

Ramirez led the Angels with 11 victories and had a 4.15 ERA in 24 starts before suffering his elbow injury in August. He was second to Ricky Nolasco in starts and was second to Parker Bridwell (3.64) in ERA among starters with at least 14 appearances.

"JC looked great," manager Mike Scioscia said Thursday. "Good life on his fastball, threw some good breaking balls. In the second inning, the ball was really coming out of his hand hot. Good movement, too. That was good to see."

Ramirez and Bridwell appear to be in competition for a spot in the Angeles' six-man starting rotation. Ramirez is out of options. Bridwell has options remaining.

"I'm competing," Ramirez said. "I don't hold back anything. I throw whatever I have. I just want to compete and make the team as a starter.

"You know what gave me more confidence? The experience that I got last year. I know now how not to throw everything the first two innings. Every inning, I know what to do each time now."

Ramirez, 29, missed the final six weeks of the 2017 season and opted for the stem-cell therapy rather than elbow surgery. Teammates Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney have undergone the same procedure, which, if it does not work, can result in Tommy John surgery. Richards has not had Tommy John. Heaney has.

Richards has been a welcome sounding board for Ramirez during the healing process. His advice included not babying the arm.

"We are kind of in the same place," Ramirez said. "I asked if he got sore, got uncomfortable. He said he just had a little tightness afterward. I'll see how it feels tomorrow. But after the live BP I threw before, I felt no more tightness.

"We are going in the right direction now."

Nick Tropeano, who missed part of 2016 and all of '17 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, gave up two singles and struck out one in two scoreless innings. He also picked pinch-runner Gorkys Hernandez off first base.

"That's the best he's thrown the ball this spring," Scioscia said. "He really spotted his fastball, had good life on it. Really threw some good offspeed pitches, especially his slider."

Jack Magruder is a contributor to MLB.com.

Los Angeles Angels, JC Ramirez