ST. PETERSBURG -- Cesar Ramos stood by his locker inside the Rays' clubhouse at the close of the 2012 season speaking about the upcoming offseason.
Some players look forward to fishing and hunting, others might have a trip on the horizon. The left-hander couldn't wait to hit the links near his home in Los Angeles. Ramos could already play a decent round of golf, but he wanted to improve his game. While talking about getting better, Ramos smiled about playing against -- among others -- Rays third-base coach Tom Foley, who is a noted golf enthusiast, once the team reports to Port Charlotte, Fla., for Spring Training.
So Ramos joined a golf club and set out to enjoy the sport for gentlemen -- and left-handed pitchers.
"I'm playing pretty well now," Ramos said. "Finally got the rust off. I'm playing two or three times a week."
Ramos recently shot his best round of the offseason, a 78 at the par 71 Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, Calif., and he has lowered his handicap to 9.
Note to Foley: Proceed with caution.
Being able to golf on a regular basis has been a pleasurable pursuit for Ramos. However, he has kept his eye on the ball at more places than the links. The southpaw wants to be ready for the coming season, when Tampa Bay will likely be counting on him to help shore up its bullpen, which has withstood the losses of J.P. Howell, Burke Badenhop and, more than likely, Kyle Farnsworth.
Howell's departure left Jake McGee and Ramos as the only left-handers in the bullpen. In addition, Ramos is out of options, which means the Rays could lose him on waivers if he doesn't make the club's Opening Day roster.
"I'm just going to approach it just like every spring," said Ramos when asked about the changing landscape of Tampa Bay's roster. "Come in ready to compete to win a job and fill whatever roll is needed at the time. I know I'm out of options, but I don't want to make the team because I'm out of options. I want to make the team because they feel I could help and fit in role. [I want to] earn one of those bullpen spots."
Ramos had three tours with the Rays in 2012, going 1-0 with a 2.10 ERA in 17 appearances. While all but one of those appearances came in relief, seven of his 26 outings at Triple-A Durham were starts. Thus, the 28-year-old can be used as a starter or reliever.
After James Shields was dealt to the Royals in December, concerns arose about how to compensate for the loss of his 200-plus innings. To shore things up, Tampa Bay might need a spot starter, more appearances by all of the relievers and more work by the long man. Ramos fits all of the categories, which makes him all the more attractive.
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said the team will likely need a reliable long man in the bullpen more than ever before.
"I think Cesar's going to be that guy," Hickey said. "I don't think we necessarily have to stretch him out any more [during Spring Training]. He's just going to pitch like he normally would. That's the five-out guy, the six-out guy, the nine-out guy. Hopefully we don't have to get nine outs out of anybody in the bullpen, because that means the starter's either been injured or failed miserably. But if it comes to nine outs, that's probably the guy you would look to."
Ramos was the 35th overall pick by the Padres in the 2005 First-Year Draft, and on Dec. 17, 2010, the Rays acquired him along with Cole Figueroa, Brandon Gomes and Adam Russell in exchange for Jason Bartlett and cash considerations.
While in San Diego's farm system, Ramos appeared in 145 games and made 122 starts. Pitching out of the bullpen wasn't a new experience, and in 2011, he posted a 3.92 ERA in 59 relief appearances with Tampa Bay.
"I thought [in 2011], being a bullpen guy, there was a learning curve," Ramos said. "I'd never been a [full-time] bullpen guy before, so I had to learn how to do it in the Major Leagues. So I had my ups and downs in 2011 with it, but I learned from that, and that's just part of it.
"Last year, I think what I learned in 2011 showed and made me a better pitcher going into 2012. And when I went back to starting, still having a little bit more experience from what I learned from pitching in the bullpen in the Major Leagues, about staying aggressive and attacking the hitters and trusting your stuff. It was huge for me. I think now at that level, I feel like I'm capable of doing all of the above."
Having gone through the journey he has, Ramos now looks forward to Spring Training.
"My first [Spring Training] with the Rays was exciting, because it was something new -- because you wanted to do well coming off the trade," Ramos said. "But going into this year, I'm definitely excited about what's in store for me and to see what they think I can help them with.
"It's exciting to go out there and have a chance to maybe start or be a long guy, whatever it is."
Like a putt that's in the leather, Ramos is good to go, and that's a gimme.