Bad news for Neil Ramirez interrupted all the good vibes around this Cubs team.
Ramirez walked off the mound with athletic trainer PJ Mainville in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 5-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Ramirez had just thrown three pitches to Joey Votto, struggling to find the velocity that’s made him a dominant reliever and shaking his right arm.
The Cubs are calling it “right shoulder discomfort” and expect to know more on Thursday after Ramirez gets an MRI.
“They haven’t really had a chance to analyze it in detail,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Obviously, the 90-mile-an-hour fastball was well below his thing. So something, obviously, was not well with him.”
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Catcher Miguel Montero immediately noticed the difference in Ramirez, who made his big-league debut last season and put up a 1.44 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 43.2 innings, looking like an elite setup guy.
“You don’t want to see that happen,” Montero said. “I don’t know if he’s hurt or not. But if he is, it’s a big loss. Hopefully, it’s nothing bad. He really kind of looked weird to me. Like the way he was warming up, something wasn’t right.
“(On his last pitch), he kind of pulled it and bounced it like he was trying to get it there. Something wasn’t right.”
That became the downer on a night where the Cubs (5-3) won their second series in a row, moved back into first place and hinted they might actually live up to some of the preseason hype.
Anthony Rizzo said it’s time to compete after Game 162 last season and doubled down during the team’s winter caravan, predicting the Cubs would win the National League Central this year.
Rizzo understood everyone would run wild with that quote, but the All-Star first baseman didn’t really care, finally seeing the pieces of the puzzle coming together.
Rizzo again set the tone in the first inning, blasting a two-run homer off ex-Cub Jason Marquis that disappeared into where the right-field bleachers are rising as a skeleton of steel beams.
The rebuild is a work in progress, but that shot was enough for Travis Wood, who Maddon affectionately called a “dirtbag” and “one of those throwback dudes.” Wood pitched into the eighth and got loud cheers from the crowd of 29,205 as he walked off the field after putting up seven scoreless innings.
“We need to do this,” Rizzo said. “We need to keep doing it and just get everyone rallying behind us. We’re all rallying for each other in here and we’ll get the whole city rallying behind us.”
The Cubs felt confidence heading into this season with a deep, strong bullpen that had been methodically built. Justin Grimm — another pitcher acquired from the Texas Rangers along with Ramirez in the Matt Garza trade — is already on the disabled list with a forearm injury.
Theo Epstein’s front office and ex-manager Rick Renteria put Ramirez in an awkward situation last summer, trying to stash him at Triple-A Iowa for a “break” before the Major League Baseball Players Association intervened. The Cubs wound up putting Ramirez on the disabled list with “right triceps soreness.”
Maddon has to feel a level of concern for Ramirez, who will turn 26 next month and figures to be a big part of the future.
“It’s nothing real positive, I don’t think,” Maddon said. “We have to wait and see. I don’t like to go to negative town too quickly. But we’ll see.”