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Notes: Caleb Smith shines, Urena improves

@JoeFrisaro
March 13, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- Any concerns Caleb Smith won’t be either healthy or ready for Opening Day were immediately put to rest on Wednesday afternoon. The left-hander struck out six in four perfect innings of relief in the Marlins’ 4-1 win over the Cardinals, so the organization now has another tough

JUPITER, Fla. -- Any concerns Caleb Smith won’t be either healthy or ready for Opening Day were immediately put to rest on Wednesday afternoon.

The left-hander struck out six in four perfect innings of relief in the Marlins’ 4-1 win over the Cardinals, so the organization now has another tough rotation decision to make.

Smith had a triumphant return to the main field after undergoing surgery last July 9 to repair a Grade 3 lat strain. The 27-year-old last pitched on June 24 at Colorado.

“It was awesome,” Smith said of being back in game action. “You can’t draw it up any better than that. Actually, I was super nervous going into it. Probably more nervous than when I made my debut.”

Smith entered in the sixth inning and worked through the ninth. He was credited with the win, making quick work of the Cardinals on 47 pitches.

The Marlins were prepared to push him to more than 60, but he didn’t allow a baserunner and struck out the side in the sixth inning -- getting each of Dexter Fowler, Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna swinging.

“To be able to land his breaking ball, and use his changeup at times,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Really, I don’t think you can expect anything better than that his first time out.”

Smith’s fastball was 91-95 mph, and his offspeed pitches were sharp. Smith faced batters before Wednesday, but in simulated games on back fields.

“It’s completely different from being on the back fields,” Smith said of Wednesday’s outing. “You just can’t replicate the adrenaline. It felt good to get back out there. I almost forgot what it felt like. I went out there and filled up the zone.”

Smith showed plenty of promise as a rookie in 2018. He made 16 starts and struck out 88 in 77 1/3 innings before his injury against the Rockies ended his year.

One Spring Training appearance is hardly enough to draw any firm conclusions. But Smith is certainly giving the Marlins something to think about. Because he’s been moved along more carefully, the lefty could be an option to open the season on the injured list.

But if Smith continues to impress like he did against the Cardinals, it will be hard to keep him out of the rotation.

José Ureña, already announced as the Opening Day starter, threw four-plus innings and allowed one run. Dan Straily, Wei-Yin Chen, Pablo Lopez and Trevor Richards are the other rotation candidates.

“It was good today,” Mattingly said of Smith. “We’re not going to get too excited. It’s Spring Training right now. You want to gain consistency but, obviously, you couldn’t be happier with the outing.”

Smith will get more chances before the home opener against the Rockies.

“There’s nothing I can do,” the lefty said of his rotation chances. “I can only go out there and perform to the best of my ability. It’s not my decision to put me in the rotation or not. All I can do is go out there and show them what I have.”

Urena shows improvement
In three previous Spring Training starts, Urena hadn’t pitched as many as three complete innings. On Wednesday, the Marlins ace logged a Grapefruit League-high four-plus innings, exiting in the fifth inning after hitting Paul DeJong with a pitch.

Urena allowed one run on two hits with a walk and had three strikeouts in his best spring outing thus far. He threw 70 total pitches.

“I thought Jose was sharper today,” Mattingly said. “His stuff seemed to be crisper in the zone.”

The right-hander has two more Grapefruit League starts before he will face the Rockies on March 28 at Marlins Park.

“I feel pretty good,” Urena said. “The little things we’ve been working on, what we put in practice, we worked on out there.”

Up next
The Marlins are at the Astros on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Straily, lined up as the No. 2 starter, will get the nod for Miami. Houston counters with right-hander Collin McHugh.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.