JUPITER, Fla. -- Since the choice was obvious, Marlins manager Don Mattingly wasted little time on Thursday announcing who will pitch on Opening Day: right-hander José Ureña will take the mound on March 28 in the opener against the Rockies at Marlins Park.
"I know we put this off every year, because we didn't really know," Mattingly said. "But I think this year, right now the plan, if everything would go according to that, it would be Jose Urena, which I don't think is a big surprise for anyone. I was willing to give that up right away."
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Urena, 27, has been a workhorse in the rotation the past two seasons, and he was the Opening Day starter in 2018. Although that outing didn't start off well for the righty -- he allowed a home run to the Cubs' Ian Happ on the first pitch of the season -- Urena made steady improvement over the course of the season.
"That means a lot that those guys have the faith in me, but I'm the kind of guy, that every time you're out there, you're trying to get outs," Urena said. "Not just for one day."
As for the Happ homer to launch last season, Urena added: "I didn't expect the guy would take a swing on the ball. That was a good learning experience. You have to be ready. A lot of things can happen."
On a team that finished 63-98, Urena went 9-12 with a 3.98 ERA in 31 starts and 174 innings. He paced the club in wins, starts and innings pitched.
Down the stretch, Urena made significant improvement, going 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA in September and limiting opponents to a .183 batting average against him. After the All-Star break, he was 7-3 with a 3.31 ERA.
"If we have a guy we want to basically bring along, and this is how you go about your business, that's Jose," Mattingly said. "His work ethic. His continuing to work and trying to get better all the time. Just the toughness he approaches each outing with, he's our guy."
Homegrown in the Marlins' system, Urena was an international signing from the Dominican Republic in August of 2008, and he made his big league debut in 2015.
In his first season of arbitration-eligibility, the right-hander is signed for $3.2 million in 2019. He is treating the Opening Day nod like any other day at the park.
"I treat it like a normal game in the season," Urena said. "A lot of people get excited, and you get excited, too. But at the end of the day, you've got to do your job out there."
A hard thrower, Urena's four-seam fastball averaged 95.8 mph in 2018, according to Statcast™. He also has a 95.5-mph average sinker, which has a tendency to run in on right-handed hitters.
With so much movement on his pitches, Urena also is known for challenging hitters inside, and hitting batters has been an issue. He plunked 12 last year, and 14 the year before.
In August, Urena was suspended for hitting Braves' rookie Ronald Acuña Jr. After that incident, Urena regrouped and finished strongly. In 30 innings in September, he hit only one batter.
"He turned himself from a power pitcher to a pitcher," catcher Chad Wallach said. "There's a difference between a guy who just throws it and a pitcher. I didn't get to see it all year last year, but what I saw at the end, he was using everything, which just made his fastball play better."