It didn't take long for the Marlins to find a fill-in for David Phelps in the back end of the bullpen. Junichi Tazawa promises to get more chances in high-leverage situations, and one of them came in Friday's 3-1 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Tazawa worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning in what turned out to be the most critical moment of the game.
"His confidence just seems to grow," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "We're going to need it, obviously. With the trade, we're looking for another back-end piece. It looks like he's ready for it."
Tazawa entered in a tricky spot, taking over for Jose Urena, who gave up a leadoff single to Eugenio Suarez, threw a wild pitch and walked Scott Schebler.
With one out and the bases loaded, Tazawa used an 88.6-mph forkball to get Billy Hamilton to bounce to second base. Dee Gordon, not attempting a double play on the speedy Hamilton, threw home for the second out. Zack Cozart's fly ball to center field was run down by Christian Yelich to end the threat.
"That was wonderful job for Taz," Urena said. "That was the big situation, first and second, nobody out. So he did pretty good."
How the bullpen shapes up will be closely monitored the remainder of the season, especially since Phelps was dealt to Seattle on Thursday for four prospects. The club has some less experienced options for setup innings in Nick Wittgren and Brian Ellington, who was recalled from Triple-A New Orleans to fill Phelps' roster spot.
The order on Friday was Tazawa in the seventh inning, Kyle Barraclough in the eighth, and AJ Ramos in the ninth. The three retired nine of the 10 batters they faced, with Ramos logging his 18th save.
"You're losing a big piece there and a good pitcher [in Phelps], and it's something collectively the whole bullpen is going to have to pick up his production," Barraclough said. "I don't think it's going to be one person, and obviously, today shaped out really well, and that started with Urena throwing into the seventh inning."
Tazawa, 31, is a veteran candidate who signed a two-year, $12 million deal as a free agent during the offseason.
Entering Spring Training, Tazawa was expected to take on a significant role in the 'pen. But he got off to a slow start, and from May 17-June 22 was on the disabled list with rib cartilage inflammation.
In July, however, Tazawa has been on the mark, throwing 10 scoreless innings over nine appearances.
"Taz has been throwing the ball good," Mattingly said. "We've been giving him more responsibility as he's come back off the DL. And he's thrown the ball well, so he's a guy who fits back there."