Urena may be 'built for the role' of closer

September 5th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- In Tuesday night’s victory over the Pirates at PNC Park, Marlins right-hander did something he hadn’t done in a very long time.

Ureña pitched a scoreless 10th inning to earn his first save of the season, and his first since April 27, 2016.

Two months after that save, Ureña moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation, and that’s where he’s spent most of his time since then. In 2018, he made 31 appearances (all starts) and posted a Marlins rotation-best 3.98 ERA. He was Miami’s 2019 Opening Day starter, and at 27, seemed poised to stay in that role for some time.

But a herniated disc in his lower back necessitated a three-month trip to the injured list and the Marlins are being cautious with his return. Hence, Ureña will work as the team’s closer the rest of this season.

The role should allow him more consistency than a typical bullpen job -- he’ll be pitching at roughly the same time every day -- and the move out of the rotation will provide a way to work slowly back into the job of Major League pitcher.

“He’s been in the bullpen before,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. “I think the main thing that he knows is that he’s in a role that’s going to be an up-and-down type role. He’s going to know when he’s pitching. It’s not like he’s in the middle of the game, could come in in the middle of an inning and has to get up quick.”

So on Wednesday afternoon, Ureña did something else he hasn’t done in a while. He got himself ready to pitch for a second consecutive day. He said the adjustment hasn’t been a difficult one.

“I don’t do anything different, it’s just no more routine. If anything has changed, it’s just the way I take care of myself,” Urena said, after completing an additional individual workout in between team stretching and batting practice before Wednesday's 6-5 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park.

It didn’t go as well as the previous day, with Ureña allowing three runs without recording an out to blow his first save of the season.

Despite the blown save, the plan remains to limit Ureña to mostly one-inning, late-game outings for the rest of 2019. What happens to the former starter after that is still up in the air, and may depend on how he feels the rest of the way.

“He had a fairly serious little episode with the back,” Mattingly said. “Those things just don’t go away. … I think more than anything, it’s the piece of mind that you’ve gotten back on the mound, your stuff is good, and see what kind of adjustments you have to make.”

Further complicating matters is the number of young pitchers the Marlins have ticketed for the 2020 starting rotation, which could also help make Ureña’s move to the bullpen a more permanent one. Mattingly said Ureña is “built for the role” of closer.

But right now, he’s focused on feeling good in the present before worrying about what comes next.

“I took a lot of time on the IL,” Urena said. “The main thing is if I rebuild 100 percent and feel good. Then I can be back.”