A.J. Ramos’ simulated pitching session prior to Friday night’s game went well, giving the Marlins hope he will return as early as Sunday.
Ramos said he threw about 25 pitches off the mound and felt as good as he had since sustaining a hairline fracture to his right middle finger. Ramos injured his finger while fielding a bunt on July 25 and gave up three runs in a non-save situation.
Ramos, a first-time All-Star in 2016, has converted 32 saves in 34 chances this season but has not pitched since Aug. 5 in Colorado, just two days after giving up three runs and suffering his second blown save against the Cubs.
“I had very, very minimal pain [Friday],” Ramos said. “That’s the best I felt since before I hurt it. My arm felt great and the finger felt great. Changeup was good, fastball, everything was in the zone.”
Should Ramos pitch Sunday, he would have a chance to rest during the Marlins’ day off Monday and see how he responds from the injury without having to pitch back-to-back days.
“A.J. looked really good [Friday],” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “The balls were right there in the zone and hitting the edges. His command was good. His pitches were sharp.”
Now, it’s just a matter of him bouncing back [physically] on Saturday. If he does, we expect to activate him Sunday."
Fernando Rodney has been closing games in Ramos’ absence. Rodney, who converted all 17 save opportunities as the Padres’ closer, struggled in a setup role with the Marlins, posting a 6.46 ERA in 15 1/3 innings. Since switching back to a ninth-inning role, Rodney has converted all four of his save chances and has allowed only one run in six innings.
Ramos isn’t sure if he will immediately slide back into the closer’s role upon his return and said he’s only concerned about helping the team win.
“If I’m feeling normal, I want to close,” Ramos said. “But Fernando has been doing a great job. I don’t want to mess up any of the positive that we’ve gained by me going in there and not feeling well. I want to be able to compete at my normal level and go from there. We need every win we can get right now.”
BONDS GIVES INSIGHT
Ramos got the chance to pretend to pitch to Barry Bonds during Friday’s session.
Bonds, the Marlins’ first-year hitting coach who began his career with the Pirates, didn’t take swings but stood in the batter’s box and offered Ramos some feedback on the effectiveness of his pitches.
“I probably would have struck him out,” joked Ramos. “I just wanted to see someone in the box there to give me a better feel for it.
“[Bonds] stepped in and gave me some good feedback. He would tell me even before the ball left my hand if he knew what pitch it was and if he’d have hit it or not. It was definitely cool.”
▪ Hoping to add some punch to their offense, the Marlins called up first baseman/outfielder Xavier Scruggs.
Scruggs, who hit .290 with 21 home runs, 24 doubles and 50 RBI in 93 games this season at Triple A New Orleans, started at first base against the Pirates on Friday night. The Marlins designated left-hander Chris Narveson for assignment.
Scruggs, 28, has split time between first base and left field at Triple A this season and appeared in a combined 26 major-league games during 2014 and 2015 for the Cardinals.
“I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to come help this team in any way possible,” Scruggs said. “I’m ready to contribute.”
Mattingly said Scruggs would play mostly at first base and in left field as a reserve when giving the regular outfielders some rest, Ichiro Suzuki in particular.
The Marlins have been looking for a consistent fourth outfielder since Giancarlo Stanton sustained a likely season-ending groin strain last weekend.
The Marlins have also been lacking consistent production at first base since Justin Bour sustained a high ankle sprain on July 2. Bour has had multiple setbacks during his rehab process.
"He’s a guy who’s been swinging the bat well and a guy we liked in the spring," Mattingly said. "He’s had a good season in the minors so we’re hoping to catch lightning in a bottle a little bit with him."
▪ Saturday: Marlins RHP David Phelps (6-6, 2.48 ERA) at Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Chad Kuhl (3-0, 3.73), 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
▪ Sunday: Marlins RHP Jose Urena (1-4, 6.80) at Pirates RHP Ryan Vogelsong (2-2, 3.20), 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.