A mangy patch of hair covered the face of Josh Ravin when he entered the Dodgers clubhouse on Monday afternoon. "My prison beard," he called it, a fittingly fuzzy accompaniment to a season spent in a penitentiary built by an illness, a car crash and a drug suspension. The forces forged a fury inside Ravin that he converted into fuel on the mound.
"I want to destroy everyone who steps in the box," Ravin said. "Because I have no other way to take out my anger and frustration."
Ravin spent a decade toiling in the minors before he debuted with the Dodgers last season. His career nearly unraveled this spring in a cascade of misfortune. Some of it was self-inflicted, he acknowledged. He rejoined the club this week as a testament to his dominance in the minors and the organization's thirst for fresh arms.
The Dodgers recalled Ravin after placing Joe Blanton on the bereavement list. Blanton is expected to return Friday, Manager Dave Roberts said. But Ravin received a chance to showcase himself, striking out a pair and working around a triple in a scoreless ninth inning in Monday's 9-4 victory over Philadelphia.
"From the reports that I get, he's been dominant," Roberts said before the game. "He's got better command of the slider, and he's sitting at 97 mph. I like the velocity and the slider command. He should get major-league hitters out."
Three months ago, Ravin wondered if he would ever get that chance again with the Dodgers. Frustrated with his options in the appeals process, he accepted an 80-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. He vowed to team officials that he would pay his penance and return with a vengeance.
For Ravin, the spiral started in spring training. He contracted an illness that laid him low and stripped 20 pounds from his 6-foot-4 frame. After he regained strength and started to resume his throwing program, he was involved in a car accident that broke his non-throwing arm.
The injury would shelve him for months. As he recuperated, it only got worse.
In between the illness and the accident, Ravin consumed a sports drink that contained the banned substance Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide 2. He sought to regain strength so he could be ready for the season. While he acknowledged he violated the league's drug policy, he found a sizable dichotomy between his behavior and the decisions of other offenders.
"You can call it cheating," Ravin said. "It is what it is. I cheated. But it's a little different when you've got a guy on the playing field who is using compared to a guy who can't even be on the field. That's what frustrates me. That's where my anger comes from."
The perceived injustice gnawed at him as Ravin considered his options after he failed the test. He thought about claiming negligence, the defense used by players when an illegal substance enters the body unwittingly. But his lawyer from the MLBPA told him his case was too thin, Ravin said.
Ravin feared the possibility of fighting the charge for the entirety of this season and still facing an 80-game ban in 2017. So he capitulated and accepted the punishment.
The suspension left him time to stew. Ravin raged at the situation, he said. He felt he had been honest about his usage of the substance when talking to league officials. He had not attempted to improve the performance of a healthy body. He merely intended to heal a depleted one.
"Where's the sympathy?" Ravin said. "That's what I was looking for. It's frustrating. It really is. When there's guys on the field who are doing it and there's guy who can't even be on the field. Big difference. The fact that I got 80 [games] and other guys got 80, that's where that frustration [comes from]."
Idle for most of the summer, Ravin made a handful of appearances in the rookie-level Arizona League last month. Moved to triple-A Oklahoma City in August, he struck out seven batters in a pair of two-inning stints. With Blanton away from the club, the Dodgers brought Ravin back to the majors.
In a comical twist, the team placed his locker next to that of utility man Enrique Hernandez. In April, with Ravin on the disabled list and awaiting suspension, the pair engaged in a Twitter spat that led to Ravin deleting his account.
The row started when Ravin made a crack about Hernandez's outfield defense. Hernandez replied with a joke about Ravin's driving. The exchange devolved from there.
"You can't pick up on sarcasm on that type of stuff," Ravin said. "It was just a misunderstanding." He added, "I had enough stuff on me that that's when I checked out of Twitter. I was like 'I need to get off this crap.'"
Ravin joked about the idea of building a "brand" on Twitter. He would rather make his reputation on the mound. After a ruined spring and a torturous summer, he has emerged ready to contribute for the club that stuck by him.
"I've got a lot of lost time," Ravin said. "So I'm trying to make up for it, every time I get on the rubber."
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