Blame it on a mixup. Point the finger at a language misunderstanding. Attribute it to poor communication resulting from a lack of a simple bullpen phone.
Whatever the specifics, this much is certain:
It was purely by accident that A.J. Ramos became a closer.
Ramos, who recorded his first major-league save Wednesday in the Marlins’ 5-4 win over the Dodgers, might have remained a run-of-the-mill reliever if not for a case of mistaken identity his first season of pro baseball.
“It was all by accident,” Ramos said.
Shortly after being chosen in the 21st round of the 2009 amateur draft, Ramos was assigned to Jamestown, the Marlins’ short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League.
One game, manager Andy Haines dispatched one of the team’s Spanish-speaking players to the bullpen with orders to have left-hander Stephen Richards begin warming up for a looming ninth-inning save situation.
Only the messenger got the names mixed up along the way. Instead of Richards, the player blurted out “Ramos” upon his arrival to the bullpen, which is how it all started.
Imagine the manager’s surprise when Ramos ‒ not Richards ‒ came trotting in from the bullpen to pitch the ninth.
“I was running in and he just threw his hands up,” Ramos recalled. “And then he said, ‘Well, all right, come on. Let’s do it.’ ”
Ramos did such a good job in his debut as a closer that Haines decided to leave him in that role. The rest is history.
“He can put fires out,” said Haines, who now manages at Triple A New Orleans. “I wish we could say we worked some kind of magic with him in player development, but he came in the door that way.”
It’s a good thing for the Marlins, who found themselves in a closer crisis after Steve Cishek, their ninth-inning guy, couldn’t get the job done, blowing four saves with the first five weeks of the season. After back-to-back meltdowns in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the job was taken from Cishek.
Manager Mike Redmond said he intended to fill Cishek’s spot by “mixing and matching” from his cast of other relievers. It was Ramos he turned to the first time the situation arose Wednesday.
Ramos got the job done in 11 pitches with a 1-2-3 ninth.
“It really felt good,” Ramos said afterward.
It’s a feeling he had known before when he was in the minors, where he recorded 83 saves after the accidental discovery. But Ramos, 28, had only served in a set-up capacity in the majors, what with Cishek manning the closer’s role so successfully -- until now.
“It’s a high-pressure situation, and it’s one you dream about from the time you’re a kid playing in the front yard,” Ramos said. “You’re thinking, bases loaded, two outs as a kid.”
Ramos feels he’s capable of closing, and not only due to his wealth of ninth-inning experience in the minors. He feels he has corrected one of his majorflaws of walking batters, partly due to a change of diet.
Ramos said he dealt all last season with right shoulder inflammation.
“I was going through some arm issues, which explains why my [velocity] was down,” Ramos said. “It was bugging me all year.”
Over the winter, Ramos decided to change his diet, cutting out red meats and cheese. He showed up at spring training looking leaner and fitter.
“It’s more like an anti-inflammatory diet,” he said. “I just try to eat foods that won’t cause inflammation in the body. Anything that tastes good, that pretty much had to go. Now I feel a lot more energetic.”
His shoulder is no longer sore and he’s throwing strikes.
Ramos has cut his walk rate in half, from six per nine innings last season to three this season.
Based on what he saw of him in the minors, Haines said there’s no reason to think Ramos wouldn’t thrive in the closer’s role in the majors.
“With his makeup and weapons, he’s capable of doing anything,” Haines said. “He came in the door that way. He has three to four pitches. As a manager, you say we need more guys like him.”
▪ Friday: Marlins RHP David Phelps (2-0, 2.90) vs. Atlanta Braves RHP Julio Teheran (3-1, 4.74), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Saturday: Marlins RHP Mat Latos (1-3, 4.72) vs. Atlanta Braves LHP Alex Wood (1-2, 4.28), 1:05 p.m., Marlins Park.