A.J. Ramos isn’t a two-pitch pony.
And that’s what separates Ramos from most major-league closers, the ram-it-down-your-throat types who rely on hard heat to extinguish ninth-inning fires.
“Everybody loves that guy throwing 107 [mph] out of the bullpen,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “But the biggest thing with A.J. is that he’s got a number of pitches. He’s not the conventional, hair-on-fire guy. He’s got starter’s stuff.”
But the Marlins will be counting on Ramos — who brings a four-pitch arsenal to the table — to provide ender’s stuff, closing out wins as their ninth-inning stopper. It will mark the first time Ramos will begin the season in the role.
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“In another life, yeah, I feel like I could have easily been a starting pitcher,” Ramos said. “But that’s somewhere else. I love this role.”
Ramos inherited it at Dodger Stadium on May 13 last season, two nights after Steve Cishek coughed up a ninth-inning lead, giving up a game-winning homer to Scott Van Slyke.
Then-manager Mike Redmond made Ramos his closer, and the right-hander proceeded to record 32 saves, nine of them coming in the final month.
But the job wasn’t automatically his when he showed up for spring training in April. Mattingly made it an open competition between Ramos and Carter Capps — a flame-throwing, closer prototype.
Alas, Capps bowed out of the competition early with an elbow injury requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery, and the job belonged to Ramos by default.
“The biggest question with A.J. was could Capps be that guy, too,” Mattingly said. “And that problem kind of solved itself pretty quickly.”
Even though Ramos knows he doesn’t fit the standard mold of a closer, he doesn’t lack for confidence. And it’s not as though he throws marshmallows. His fastball usually sits in the mid-90s range, and he averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
What distinguishes Ramos is that he can bury hitters with a four-pitch array: fastball, slider, change-up and curve ball.
“I think that makes it a little tougher for them to hit me because they’ve got to look for so many things,” Ramos said of his unpredictability.
Mattingly said Ramos’ athleticism and excellent pick-off move also sets him apart from most closers.
“He does all the little things that a lot of closers don’t do,” Mattingly said. “You’re not worried if you put him in and they get a guy on, he can hold a runner. It’s not just a track meet at that point.”
Unlike Capps, Ramos is also extremely durable. He’s averaged 69 appearances over the past three seasons. And over the past two, he’s fashioned a 2.21 ERA in 134 innings.
Ramos possesses the one necessary quality for a closer, as well: he’s not afraid.
“Some people, it scares them,” Ramos said. “It makes them timid. ‘I don’t want to fail again. I’m scared.’ Well, I know what failure feels like and I don’t want to feel that again. So it makes me push harder. [Failure] motivates me more than success because you hate that feeling of failure.”
With a week remaining to Opening Day, the Marlins on Tuesday trimmed four players from the roster to bring the number left in camp to 35.
Outfielder Justin Maxwell and infielder Don Kelly were granted their releases while right-handed pitchers Jose Urena and Nefi Ogando were optioned to Triple A New Orleans.
Though Maxwell and Kelly are now free to explore the market, there’s a chance both could return to the organization if they can’t find any takers.
“[President of baseball operations] Mike Hill left that possibility open, that if I can’t find a job, they’d be more than happy to come back and wear a Marlins uniform,” Maxwell said.
The same is true of Kelly, who spent almost all of last season on the disabled list and later underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm.
The most intriguing names remaining in camp are outfielder Cole Gillespie and pitcher Brad Hand. Gillespie is out of minor-league options and, with no room on the roster for an outfielder, would have to clear waivers — an unlikely event — if the Marlins decide not to keep him. Likewise, Hand is also out of options. The Marlins would prefer not to lose either. Those decision must be made within the coming days.
▪ Wednesday: Marlins RHP David Phelps at St. Louis Cardinals RHP Michael Wacha, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.