MIAMI -- It's approaching late August and the Marlins are in the thick of the postseason race. They just improved their chances by sweeping a three-game set against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot.Miami's task
MIAMI -- It's approaching late August and the Marlins are in the thick of the postseason race. They just improved their chances by sweeping a three-game set against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot.
Miami's task to reach the postseason for the first time since winning the World Series in 2003 doesn't get any easier with the red-hot Kansas City Royals visiting Marlins Park for three games starting on Tuesday.
With six weeks to go in the regular season, Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill addressed five key issues for the stretch run:
1. José Fernández's innings
From this point forward, there are no more restrictions regarding Fernandez, who recently had one start skipped in order to remain within his innings structure. The hard-throwing right-hander is being monitored because he is in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.
Fernandez is at 23 starts and 141 2/3 innings. The club is aiming to keep in in the 180-190 range, while also having him available for the playoffs, should Miami earn a spot.
"We're within his innings range," Hill said. "He continues to give us positive feedback, and [he] feels strong. We'll have him healthy ready to go down the stretch."
2. Updates on Adam Conley and Wei-Yin Chen
The two left-handers are on the disabled list, and they may be available in September. Conley (left third finger tendinitis) is the closer of the two to returning. And Chen (left elbow sprain) could be ready by the end of September.
"Adam is making progress," Hill said. "The swelling in his hand is getting better. Obviously, with a rehab, you never know how long it is going to take. We'll continue to monitor that. We're hopeful we'll get him back sooner rather than later.
"Wei-Yin Chen, he started his throwing program, and he's starting to stretch out. We'll continue to build him up and hopefully have him back sometime in September as well."
3. State of the bullpen
Without any starter throwing a complete game this year, the bullpen has been called into duty in every game. For the most part, the relievers have been very reliable. But the fractured third finger that landed A.J. Ramos on the disabled list shuffled some roles. Ramos came back on Sunday, but in a different role, as Fernando Rodney is remaining as the closer, at least for now.
"I think it is a huge addition for us getting A.J. Ramos back healthy," Hill said. "With him back, you'll see the bullpen that we put together, with he and Rodney at the back end."
Kyle Barraclough goes back to the seventh inning, and Mike Dunn is an option in the sixth or seventh.
"Our bullpen has been a strength all year," Hill said. "We created depth with the Rodney trade, and getting Ramos back will definitely help strengthen that core."
4. Figuring out first base
Being without Justin Bour (high right ankle sprain) has created uncertainty at first base. Derek Dietrich and Chris Johnson each have started there, and Xavier Scruggs was called up from Triple-A New Orleans on Friday. Manager Don Mattingly is giving Scruggs a chance.
"We're just looking for the hot hand," Hill said. "What's paramount right now is winning games. Whatever Donnie thinks gives us the best opportunity to win, that's the lineup you'll see."
5. Potential moves and callups
The Marlins have been in discussions with the Braves regarding outfielder Jeff Francoeur. A deal is certainly possible before the Aug. 31 deadline for a player to be eligible for the postseason roster. And Miami also plans on bringing up a number of players during the September callup period.
Speaking generally about roster additions, Hill said: "We're right in the thick of this thing. Every win counts. We're going to give ourselves every opportunity to do so, hopefully throughout the rest of August and into September."
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.