A.J. Ramos can’t wait to feel the rush again of pitching with a game’s outcome on the line.
So far this spring, Ramos has had to find other ways to indulge his competitive drive.
“I find myself racing people when they’re eating,” Ramos said. “I’m sitting with my teammates and I want to finish my food faster than the other guys. When I’m running with some of the guys, I’m always trying to catch them and beat them.”
A minor calf strain has kept Ramos out of live action so far this spring.
The good news for the Marlins, who lost one of the vital pieces of their projected bullpen earlier this week, is Ramos appears to be on track and will be ready for Opening Day.
“I feel like I’m 100 percent right now, but it’s about getting comfortable throwing to hitters,” Ramos said. “My calf is totally healed. I’ve been running and jumping and doing everything and it’s been fine.
“It’s been tough watching the guys and not being able to get out there. It’s taught me to be patient.”
Ramos is expected to open the season as the closer again with Carter Capps — his toughest competition for the job entering the spring — out for the season after having Tommy John surgery on Tuesday.
“We’re not really worried much about A.J. and his timing of [getting back],” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “It’s the same thing we’ve done with everyone else. They get two chances on live batting and then get in a game.”
Ramos threw a simulated inning on Wednesday morning in which he threw roughly 25 pitches and said he has not felt any more discomfort in his right calf, which forced the Marlins to limit his workload before the spring schedule began. Ramos threw his first simulated inning of the spring this past Sunday.
“I wasn’t as sharp as I’d hoped to be, but it’s only my second game throwing to live hitting,” Ramos said. “But I felt healthy and that’s the most important part right now.”
Ramos signed a one-year, $3.4 million contract in January following a season in which he posted 32 saves in 38 opportunities. Ramos was tabbed the team’s closer last May following Steve Cishek’s early-season struggles.
Ramos, 29, finished the season with a 2.30 ERA and 87 strikeouts over 70 1/3 innings pitched with a 1.01 WHIP. He held opponents to a .184 batting average.
“The biggest thing is laying the foundation and having him ready to compete,” Mattingly said. “You want him to be at a point where the arm is strong and ready.”
With his role seemingly secure barring any further setbacks, the Marlins are continuing to work with their younger arms to line up the back end of the bullpen setting up Ramos.
Bryan Morris has the most experience with three-plus seasons pitching in major league bullpens, but righties Kyle Barraclough and Brian Ellington each pitched late last season. All three have the kind of stuff, along with veteran lefty Mike Dunn, to make a promising bridge from starter to closer this upcoming season.
“We have guys that will make up for not having Carter, but it obviously makes it easier to have a guy like that in the bullpen,” Ramos said. “Someone like [Capps] you play off of them. If he comes out there electric, it makes me want to go out there and do the same thing. But I’ll watch guys like Barraclough, Ellington, Dunn or Morris do the same thing.”
Adam Conley pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings and picked up the win in the Marlins’ 5-3 victory over the Cardinals.
In Conley’s second start of the spring, he surrendered one hit on an infield single to Brandon Moss, and one walk to Matt Holliday.
Reigning NL batting champion Dee Gordon picked up his first hit of the spring in the third inning, breaking an 0-for-10 stretch.
Thursday: Marlins RHP Jose Urena vs. Braves RHP Bud Norris, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.
Friday: Marlins RHP Jarred Cosart vs. Twins RHP Kyle Gibson, 1:05 p.m., Fort Myers.