Conley could take over Miller-like bullpen role

May 25th, 2018

MIAMI -- With the Marlins boasting the most starting pitching depth they've had in years, finding a rotation spot may be difficult for . But that doesn't mean the 28-year-old left-hander can't still fill a valuable role.

The Marlins recently recalled Conley from Triple-A New Orleans to be a multi-innings option out of the bullpen. The most eye-opening change has been an increase in velocity, with his fastball reaching 96 mph.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly on Friday said Conley may have found a home in the bullpen, where he could take on an -like role.

The way the Indians have used Miller in multiple situations has become a model for a number of clubs. Like Miller, Conley is a lanky left-hander who has had trouble being consistent with his delivery as a starter, so he was switched to the bullpen. The door isn't completely closed on Conley starting, but for now, the team is seeing how he does in relief.

"You see Andrew Miller, guys like that, in Cleveland, with that angle," Mattingly said. "He had trouble starting, but when you put him out in the 'pen, he became dominant."

At New Orleans, Conley worked on his mechanics, and his velocity started climbing. A few years ago, the lefty was throwing 96-97 mph in Spring Training. But it has slipped during the season, sometimes because of an inconsistent delivery.

"Mechanically, he figured things out to throw harder," Mattingly said. "I still think the slider can get better, but obviously, the velocity tick is good for us, and good for him. If he can handle that role in the bullpen, maybe he stays? I can't sit here and make those decisions because maybe somebody goes down in the rotation tomorrow, and we say, 'Hey, Adam is starting.'"

Conley has made 65 big league appearances (56 starts). The lefty threw one inning in Friday's 9-5 loss to the Nationals, inheriting a bases-loaded, no-outs situation against , who ended up doubling with two strikes. But Conley got out of the seventh without any further damage, inducing a double-play grounder. His previous two outings this season were scoreless.

Entering Friday, Conley's four-seam fastball average -- based on 25 pitches -- was 94.6 mph, according to Statcast™. A year ago, on almost 1,100 pitches, it was 89.7 mph. In 2016, when Conley went 8-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 25 starts, his fastball averaged 91.7 mph.

It's common for velocity to increase for relievers because they can let it go for an inning or two, rather than pacing themselves as a starter.

"We're trying to find out what's best for this club, and for [Conley] long term, and for us long term," Mattingly said. "We don't have a lot of left-handed bullpen pieces. I think we're trying to find out what's best. Can this guy be that middle-of-the-game bridge? Just like [Nick] Wittgren has been for us."

Wittgren is a right-hander who has worked multiple frames to get the game to the late innings.

Worth noting

Right-hander , on rehab assignment for a strained left oblique, is scheduled to make his next start on Sunday for Double-A Jacksonville. (left shoulder strain) continues his throwing progression. Outfielder/first baseman (right wrist contusion) hit balls off a tee on Friday and took ground balls. Cooper is on the 60-day disabled list and likely will need several weeks of rehab games.