A.J. Ramos picked up his first save in more than a month on Friday night, and while it felt good for both him and the Marlins, who are scratching and clawing to stay in the wild-card race, the fractured knuckle on the middle finger of the All-Star pitcher’s right hand still really isn’t feeling any better these days.
“It’s not as bad as in Colorado or in Chicago, but it’s still high up there,” Ramos said of the discomfort and pain in his knuckle. “In Chicago it was a six and a half, seven. Then, in Colorado it was like a seven and a half, eight pain on a scale from one to 10. Right now, it’s a five or a six. At times it gets up to six and a half.”
That’s why ultimately — whether fellow All-Star Fernando Rodney has been struggling of late or not — Marlins manager Don Mattingly said the decision remains cloudy as to whom the Marlins’ designated closer is these days.
Mattingly went into Saturday night’s game against the Dodgers unsure of who would pitch the ninth, saying it would either be Ramos, Rodney or Kyle Barraclough.
Since Ramos went on the disabled list, Barraclough hasn’t been anything special. He’s blown three saves, posted five holds and a 3.44 ERA in 18 appearances heading into Saturday.
Counting Friday’s short-lived, three-batter stint, Rodney has given up an earned run and multiple hits in three of his past four appearances entering Saturday’s game. In the dozen ninth-inning appearances he made before that — after Ramos went on the disabled list — Rodney gave up just one run in 12 innings, picking up eight saves.
What’s led to the recent struggles? Nothing health-related, Rodney said.
“He’s had a lot of success with saves until the Cleveland game [on Sept. 4],” Mattingly said. “With A.J. and the injury it seemed a pretty easy transition and then recently it feels like again command is a big issue. In Cleveland that got him in trouble. It seemed like [Friday] any time he threw the fastball they were on it. It’s something we’ll look at. We know these guys are pretty good with tipping or what’s going on with the glove or something else.”
Before he injured his finger while picking up his 31st save of the season July 19 in Philadelphia, Ramos had an ERA of 2.03 with only one blown save in 42 appearances. Opponents were batting just .181 against him.
Since the injury, Ramos has a 6.28 ERA, two blown saves and only two saves in 15 appearances. Opponents have batted .310 off him. But Friday’s save was encouraging. Ramos said he wasn’t expecting to pitch in the first place. The Marlins were looking to give him a day off.
“It wasn’t the easiest situation to get through, but, like I said before, whenever they call me to pitch I’m going to go out there and pitch and try to do a good job with whatever job they give me,” Ramos said. “All of us as a bullpen were in there to try and get the win and no matter what role we’re in. So that’s kind of the goal right now — whenever you get called on, go out there and do the job.”
Ramos said because he can’t grip the ball the same he’s had to learn how to manipulate his pitches differently, using his hand and different grips to lessen the pain. That figures to remain status quo the rest of the season.
“Every one of my pitches, from fastball to changeups to everything, it’s just about adjusting to it, adjusting to the pain and kind of tweaking it a little bit,” Ramos said. “Because obviously I can’t do the same things I was doing earlier in the year. I mean, I’m all about grip. So with that kind of being an issue I’ve had to use more of my hand and sometimes the sliders don’t break as good or the changeup doesn’t do what I want it to do. But I’m slowly getting used to manipulating it a little bit and kind of making it move and kind of just doing the things I love.”
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Ramos was happy to show off his new Texas Tech football helmet Saturday, which was autographed by Kliff Kingsbury and arrived on Friday. Ramos played baseball for the Red Raiders and still goes back to work out at the university during the offseason.
Inside the Marlins’ clubhouse there are multiple football helmets hanging above various players’ lockers. Outfielder Christian Yelich, a big Tom Brady fan, has a Patriots helmet; second baseman Dee Gordon, who grew up in Central Florida, has a Florida Gators helmet with a set of receivers gloves; pitcher Tom Koehler, a native New Yorker, has Rutgers University and New York Giants helmets; infielder Chris Johnson, who grew up in Naples, has Florida State and Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmets; and first baseman Justin Bour, a Virginia native, has a Washington Redskins helmet.
“It’s kind of a new deal this year,” said Yelich, who also has the Marlins’ fantasy football trophy, which he won with former teammate Jake Marisnick last year, above his locker. “I remember I put mine up there back in July or August and it kind of caught on. It’s kind of cool.”
▪ Sunday: Marlins RHP Jose Urena (3-6, 5.54 ERA) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers RHP Kenta Maeda (14-8, 3.29), 1:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Monday: Marlins RHP Andrew Cashner (5-11, 4.77) at Atlanta Braves RHP Matt Wisler (6-11, 4.76), 7:10 p.m., Turner Field.