PORT CHARLOTTE – There was a five-game stretch last season when Joel Peralta did not pitch, and he was not happy.
“I need to pitch,” Peralta said. “I wanted our starters to go long, but I was getting desperate.”
Five games, huh? Cesar Ramos can sit for five games. He can sit for six games, sometimes more.
“Sixteen,” Ramos said. “I counted.”
Ramos, the left-handed longman in the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen is often the forgotten man, as well. He is not one of the big arms at the back of the bullpen, and he is not one of the fab five in the starting rotation.
He’s the guy who mops up. Who comes on in the 12th inning and goes the distance. He can face a tough lefty or pick up an inning to help build the bridge to the set-up men.
“I couldn’t be that way,” Peralta said. “I would not do good that way.”
But Ramos has pitched well in that role.
He started well and ended well in 2013. His midseason struggles could be attributed to his back-to-back three-inning outings in June where he threw 89 pitches in two days.
“It’s almost impossible to bounce back,” Ramos said. “You just pretty much rode your arm until it almost broke.”
He was told by pitching Jim Hickey after the first of the two outings that he would not pitch that night. Then the Rays and the Boston Red Sox were tied heading into the 12-inning in a game where Alex Cobb allowed six first inning runs. The phone rang in the bullpen and it was for Ramos.
“There’s no, ‘No,’ ” he said. “You want to take the ball. Luckily I was all right after that and finished the season strong.”
Spring training is the only time during the year when Ramos has a regular schedule. He pitches every fifth day so he can be stretched out like a starter so he can pitch multiple innings. He pitched at least two innings in 16 of his 47 appearances last season.
“What he does is really very difficult to do where he doesn’t play for a while and all of a sudden you ask him to pitch and ask him to pitch well or maybe in extra innings of a tie game. It’s crazy stuff,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Cesar, I know, mentally is ready for the next level, what he believes he is capable of doing. We have to provide him that opportunity. He’s not forgotten on us.”
Ramos started 129 games during his minor league career. He made two starts for the San Diego Padres in 2009, the first year he reached the big leagues. He even made seven starts for Triple A Durham in 2011 after his trade to Tampa Bay.
He feels he can be a solid starter in the big leagues. He also feels he can be one of those big arms in the back of the bullpen.
Right now, though, Ramos is content to be a contributing member of a playoff-caliber team.
“I’m open to everything,” he said. “I feel like I can start, just because I am still pretty much a starter, I just go two innings, three innings. But at the same time I can go out and get a lefty out if I need to, so I can be that guy. Whatever they want me to do, I’ll welcome it. I’m not going to complain. I’m not that guy.”
Actually, not being “that guy,” is what makes Ramos perfect for his role, Maddon said.
“He doesn’t pitch in a while he doesn’t come in the office. He doesn’t cry. He has a bad outing he don’t make excuses,” Maddon said. “He’s perfect for it, and that works to his disadvantage, too.”
Ramos pitched on six or more days rest six times last season. Twice, he went 10 games between appearances. He joked that if it wasn’t for his name printed on the lineup sheet posted in the clubhouse each day he’d sometimes wonder if he was still on the team.
“I’ll take that any day,” he said. “It’s part of being on a winning team. I’m still a part of what’s going on. I might not have that late-inning importance role, but my role is still important to the team and the ‘pen.”
Peralta knows it.
“Obviously, he can pitch,” Peralta said. “He helps this team win games.”