The closer for the Marlins in 2016 won’t be the same player who pitched the ninth inning for them in the final game of 2015.
Ichiro Suzuki will return to his customary spot in the outfield.
But the incumbent — A.J. Ramos — might not be given that role back, either.
The Marlins will use spring training to decide whether hard-throwing Carter Capps is a better fit for the ninth.
“The good thing is both of those guys are outstanding,” said new manager Don Mattingly. “You can use them [innings] eight-nine or nine-eight, and you’d be comfortable either way.”
As the Marlins officially opened camp on Friday, with pitchers and catchers working out for the first time, Mattingly chose his words carefully in talking about who he wants closing out wins in the ninth.
“A.J.’s done the job,” Mattingly said of Ramos, who recorded 32 saves last season after taking over for Steve Cishek. “(Capps) profiles as that guy. It’s a good problem for us.”
Mattingly, inside the dugout as Dodgers manager, witnessed first-hand the changing of the guard for the Marlins’ closer’s role last May. It was in Los Angeles where Cishek lost the job after giving up a game-winning home run in the ninth to Scott Van Slyke.
Two days later, Ramos worked the ninth at Dodger Stadium and nailed down the save. Cishek was eventually traded in July, and Ramos remained in the role to the end.
Now, the Marlins are contemplating yet another change.
In Capps, they have a prototypical closer, a strikeout machine who throws harder than anyone in the majors. Last season, Capps led the majors with a whiff rate of 16.84 strikeouts per nine innings. Next on the list was Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman, who averaged 15.74 strikeouts per nine.
Mattingly distinctly remembers Capps, who faced the Dodgers in two appearances out of the bullpen when Los Angeles played in Miami later in the season. Capps struck out three in 2 1/3 innings, allowing only one hit.
“He kind of blew us away,” Mattingly said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of chance. He was throwing really hard. He was dominant last year. Lefties, righties, it didn’t matter.”
But the catch on Capps is this: he hasn’t closed on a regular basis since his minor-days in 2012. And he’s missed significant time each of the past two seasons, landing on the disabled list with right elbow issues.
“I have the experience,” Ramos acknowledged. “But if I don’t perform, that doesn’t mean anything. I’m going in there knowing I’m going to have to compete for this job, and it’s not mine.”
Ramos understands why the Marlins would be looking at Capps for the role, though.
“You look at his makeup and you see closer all over him,” Ramos said. “He has electric stuff. He’s got everything you need in the book for a closer.”
That doesn’t mean Ramos is ready to simply hand over the job.
“I know that job is there for mine to take and I’m just kind of going after it,” he said.
Capps, too, would relish the chance to pitch the ninth.
“That’s the apex as a relief pitcher,” Capps said. “You’re the kind of top dog.”
But Capps must convince the Marlins he can remain healthy, something he’s been unable to do the past two years.
“The biggest thing is try to string it together for longer this year,” said Capps, who appeared in 30 games in 2015 before an arm injury ended his season with two months remaining.
Mattingly said one way of going about reducing the wear and tear on Capps’ arm is by using him in the ninth as opposed to earlier innings when relievers often warm up in the bullpen but aren’t necessarily brought in to pitch.
“Maybe it’s easier to protect him in [the ninth] inning, as far as when he’s going to get up, how he’s going to get ready,” Mattingly said.
The next six weeks will determine which way the Marlins go: Ramos or Capps.