After trying to send Neil Ramirez to Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs did a U-turn on Tuesday and stashed their best reliever on the disabled list with what they’re calling a sore right triceps muscle.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer denied the team felt blowback from the Major League Baseball Players Association after optioning Ramirez to Iowa on Saturday for a breather.
“No, no, we talked with these guys a little bit,” Hoyer said. “We’ve tried our hardest to be careful with him, as far as getting up and down, being used back-to-back days. In the end, he was sore the day after, and the right thing to do is put him on the DL. He’s going to be fine.”
Ramirez had 72 hours to report to Iowa, but he’s been spotted at Wrigley Field on Monday and Tuesday, doing his work while waiting out an awkward situation. He will keep his major-league salary and continuous service time.
Ramirez debuted in late April and became a big weapon, putting up a 0.96 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 28 innings. The player to be named later could wind up being the headliner from last summer’s Matt Garza deal with the Texas Rangers.
Manager Rick Renteria did the talking for the front office after Saturday’s move, calling it “not a performance-based issue,” saying “we’re just going to give him a blow” and admitting “we’ve really ridden these guys quite a bit.”
Pitch counts had been a source of frustration for the rotation. Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel raised the issue before getting traded to the Oakland A’s on the Fourth of July. It’s also created internal questions about the way Renteria’s handling his bullpen. Hoyer downplayed those concerns.
“No concern at all,” Hoyer said. “We’ve put him in a really difficult spot, because we’ve kind of had to carry an extra reliever for a lot of the year. We do have some restrictions on these guys. We don’t exactly make them public, but we try not to get these guys up and down. If you get them up, you try to get them in the game.
“We try not to use them too much, whether it’s back-to-back or certainly three-out-of-four. If you have a veteran bullpen, all those considerations kind of go out the window. Every night is sort of putting a puzzle together as far as who’s available.”
Only 11 National League relievers began the day with more appearances than Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter (94 combined). Grimm, 25, had worked almost exclusively as a starter in the Texas system before coming over in the Garza trade. Schlitter, 28, missed the entire 2011 season with a right elbow injury.
Hector Rondon, the 26-year-old closer, is a Tommy John survivor after missing most of three seasons with right elbow problems.
“All year, we’ve been talking about giving some of these guys a rest,” Hoyer said. “In general, I think you’ve seen a dip in performance with our young relievers. I think they all look a little bit tired. And if we can give those guys a rest, we will.”
The Rangers made Ramirez a supplemental first-round pick in the 2007 draft, and the right-hander’s dealt with biceps tendinitis, a back strain and arm fatigue across the past three seasons. Coming into this year, 127 of his 134 career appearances in the minors had been starts.
“The biggest thing is he is tired,” Hoyer said. “(We’re) trying to get him through the whole season, trying to get him into August and September, given the fact that he’s never had to get up and down in a bullpen (before).”
Ramirez is only 25 years old, and the Cubs once successfully transitioned Samardzija from the bullpen into a frontline starter. But Hoyer indicated there hasn’t been serious discussions about stretching out another hard-throwing reliever for a shot at the rotation.
“We haven’t really sat down and talked about it,” Hoyer said. “Maybe that’s something we revisit in the offseason, but we’re pretty happy with his work as a reliever, and I think he enjoys it. He’s a pretty emotional guy and I think sometimes those guys really fare well out of the bullpen. You see him with a fist pump when he gets a big punch-out and he definitely doesn’t shy away from the big at-bat.”
But first the Cubs are putting Ramirez in timeout, worrying about how he might be used in a lost season while believing he will become a big part of their future.