DENVER -- Righty reliever AJ Ramos’ positivity is exactly what the Rockies need during this bleak time at 20th & Blake.
Ramos, who turned 34 on Sunday, returned to the mound Saturday for the first time in more than two years, when he was with the Mets and pitching through a shoulder injury. But it was more than just that.
Ramos said his appearance in the 6-1 loss to the Dodgers, when he threw a scoreless eighth inning with one hit, one walk and one strikeout, was the first time pitching without pain in a Major League game since first experiencing shoulder issues in 2014.
“I'm not worried about how I can throw a pitch with the least amount of pain while trying to get some of the best hitters in the world out,” Ramos said Sunday morning. “When you have so many thoughts that take away from getting the guy on the plate, it definitely makes you a worse pitcher.
“There would be times where I’d grab the rosin bag behind the mound, just like squeeze it, and just say, ‘All right, man, it's only going to be a few seconds of pain, you got to get through this and you got to get the job done.’”
A cortisone shot here, a pain reduction pill there, and constant mechanical changes everywhere kept him on the mound for four years. All that even got him to the All-Star Game in 2016 with the Marlins. Before Saturday, he last threw in a game on May 26, 2018, for the Mets at Milwaukee.
His journey back was a long one, including a six-month setback during his rehab process.
“There’s always a voice in my head that says, 'Hey, man, come on, you can do it' ... and at times, I couldn’t hear that voice,” he explained.
But Ramos is the type of man who can make the most of a pandemic.
“Being a baseball player, you’re away from our family for so long,” he said. “The quarantine actually helped me get back as well. Going back home to my family -- here, I was just AJ, not ‘AJ Ramos, the pitcher,’ ‘AJ Ramos, the former All-Star.’ It was just being AJ and loving me for who I am. After I went back to my family, I remember this feeling of love.
“Whenever I didn’t want to feel the pain, I had to be callous. So it also limited my happiness. Everything was controlled. Getting home and just being a family man -- being able to laugh, being able to cry, being able to do all these things that make you human -- helped me get past that.”
Ramos signed with the Dodgers in July. They didn’t have a spot for him, and encouraged him to seek his release and go elsewhere. He signed with the Cubs, but the pandemic and poor weather led to one bad showing in camp, and he was released.
Wanting not only to get back but to pitch in a postseason race, he signed on Sept. 5, where he was reunited with bench coach Mike Redmond, who managed him with the Marlins. He has quickly come to love Denver, his teammates and the organization.
But the team’s performance has plummeted in recent days. Ramos wants to pitch for a contending team, since he has never been to the playoffs, and he realizes he can’t decide whether to re-up until the Rockies determine if they are a contender in ’21 or if they’re due for a rebuild. Either way, they need bullpen pieces.
“Nobody knows what's going to happen in offseason,” he said. “We'll definitely have a conversation, and we'll see where it goes from there. I like the place and if everything goes right, I could be here.”
Rockies manager Bud Black spent Sunday morning watching the alternate training site, with recently optioned Sam Hilliard taking live batting practice against right-handers José Mujica and Chad Smith (obtained this summer from the Marlins), and lefty Ryan Rolison -- the Rockies' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- throwing a side session.
Black said any of them could be activated during the final road trip. MLB has requested teams take a large number of players from alternate camp, and many front-office members and executives, on the final road trip. That way, if the team makes the playoffs, all COVID-19 testing will be up-to-date without logistical issues.