LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cesar Ramos did not sign with the Phillies until the first week of January.
But the ink-to-paper part was just a formality.
Deep down inside, the 32-year-old relief pitcher had known for a couple of months that he would take his shot with the Phillies in 2017.
"Once Philly reached out early in the offseason, I knew I wanted to come here," Ramos said. "We talked for a while and eventually got something done."
Ramos, a veteran of eight big-league seasons, had a strong season pitching in relief for the Los Angeles Angels in 2015. He recorded a 2.75 ERA in 65 games that season and his work was witnessed up close by Matt Klentak, the former Angels assistant general manager who became the Phillies head man in October 2015.
Klentak made a bid to sign Ramos before the 2016 season, but the left-hander went with the Texas Rangers because they offered a chance to work as a starting pitcher and he wanted to give the role a shot.
Ramos bounced in and out of the Rangers' rotation in 2016. He spent some time in the minors and was eventually released before finishing the season with Detroit's Triple A Toledo club.
After the season, Ramos realized that the bullpen was the place he needed to be. He crossed his fingers that the Phillies would call again -- and they did. He is in camp on a minor-league contract, one of four left-handed relievers vying for one or two spots in the bullpen. The others are Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Sean Burnett, who, like Ramos, is a veteran on a minor-league deal.
Ramos knew the Phillies were thin on lefty relievers.
"I did my homework a little bit," said the Los Angeles-area native, a former teammate and roommate of Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki at Long Beach State University. "I’m trying to put myself where I have the best chance to have success coming in on a minor-league deal.
"I believe in myself. I've always had to fight for a spot so it’s nothing new for me. I have to come in and perform."
So far, so good.
Ramos has pitched five innings this spring and given up just two hits and a run. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Tigers in Lakeland on Tuesday.
Burnett checked in with two scoreless frames against the Braves on Wednesday afternoon, giving him four straight scoreless innings since giving up two runs in his first outing of the spring.
Morgan, who has been a starter most of his career, offers the Phillies length, the ability to pitch multiple innings, and that could help his chances of making the club.
Rodriguez showed power stuff in climbing from Class A ball to the majors last season. He has pitched 3 1/3 innings this spring and given up two hits, a run and a walk. He has registered three strikeouts.
With 23 days left in Florida, it's too early to predict which lefties will end up in the bullpen. Heck, the field of candidates could grow as the front office is surely keeping tabs on which lefty relievers become available in other camps.
"Out of the four that we have, I'd like to pick two, if possible," manager Pete Mackanin said. "But nothing is for sure on that side right now. I'm anxious to sort that out once we start having our meetings on the structure of the team. There's definitely a need. It's wide open."
Being in spring training with the Phillies has been a bit of a homecoming for Ramos. He pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2011 to 2014 before being traded to the Angels when Klentak was in that front office.
"My best year as a reliever was in front of his eyes in Anaheim," Ramos said. "Hopefully I can still be that same guy.
"Hopefully I can be here in April."