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Short on options, Nicolino, Telis can open eyes

MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

JUPITER, Fla. -- The time is now for Marlins pitcher Justin Nicolino and catcher Tomas Telis. Because both are out of Minor League options, they must make the Opening Day roster or the organization will risk losing one or both.

The way the roster is shaping up, both are in prime positions to be with the club. Nicolino is in the mix for a rotation or long-relief role, and Telis is the front-runner to be the backup catcher. Telis hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning of the Marlins' 4-2 loss to the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Friday.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- The time is now for Marlins pitcher Justin Nicolino and catcher Tomas Telis. Because both are out of Minor League options, they must make the Opening Day roster or the organization will risk losing one or both.

The way the roster is shaping up, both are in prime positions to be with the club. Nicolino is in the mix for a rotation or long-relief role, and Telis is the front-runner to be the backup catcher. Telis hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning of the Marlins' 4-2 loss to the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Friday.

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Although the Marlins have not officially said that either player has made the roster, the club is giving them every chance. The Marlins don't want a repeat of a scenario from 2016 in which lefty Brad Hand was out of options and ended up being designated for assignment, then claimed by the Padres.

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Hand was an All-Star in 2017, and he enters this season as San Diego's closer.

"Obviously, you don't want to lose guys," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "You don't want to have a Brad Hand situation where you end up losing a guy who ends up being an All-Star and a top-tier closer. Those are the kind of guys you don't want to lose, so you're going to give it every look that you can."

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Nicolino, 26, has been off-and-on as a starter over the past few years, splitting time between the big leagues and Minors.

Last year, the left-hander appeared in 20 games, including eight starts, and had a 2-3 record and a 5.06 ERA across 48 innings.

The change this year for Nicolino is that he's introducing a new pitch. He no longer throws a cutter, which he has replaced with a slider.

Has the slider opened the eyes of the organization?

"Absolutely," Mattingly said. "I think the slider is a difference maker for him. It's a pitch that has depth and has a different look than a cutter. He was not using the slider last year. He's got the curveball and he's got the good changeup. He's not going to be an overpowering guy, but it's still good enough."

Video: MIA@NYM: Telis throws out Flores at second base

Telis, 26, was acquired by the Marlins from the Rangers for Sam Dyson in 2015, and he's seen limited big league action over the past three seasons.

Now, Telis is projected to back up J.T. Realmuto. Telis can also play some first base.

"You know J.T. is your primary catcher, and what do you want from your backup guy?" Mattingly said. "How is he with the staff? What other things can he do? The fact he can play first adds to his value."

Position battle
Sandy Alcantara, ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami's No. 3 prospect, is being given every opportunity to win a rotation spot on the Opening Day roster. The hard-throwing right-hander worked four-plus innings on Friday, giving up three runs on six hits while walking three and striking out four. Until the fifth inning, Alcantara settled down after allowing Yadier Molina's first-inning homer.

Video: Mattingly discusses Alcantara's solid spring start

"Obviously, other than Yadi, he threw pretty good," Mattingly said. "I thought he threw some good pitches. As the game went on, I thought his breaking ball got better."

The Marlins are weighing whether to carry their highest-rated pitcher or allow him more time to develop at Triple-A New Orleans. The Cardinals tested the 22-year-old; Molina finished the day with four hits, including a second homer off Junichi Tazawa.

Alcantara's fastball maxed out at 98 mph, and he also touched 96 and 97. He threw 74 pitches, 40 of which were strikes.

Video: MIA@STL: Alcantara fans Pham with the bases loaded

"I'm not putting any pressure on myself," Alcantara said. "We're a bunch of young guys going out there competing, fighting hard and trying to prove ourselves. We'll leave the decision up to the coaches."

Injury update
Shortstop JT Riddle (left shoulder) is scheduled to play three innings in the field on Saturday in a Minor League game. This is a big development, because it is the first time he'll be able to play shortstop since undergoing left shoulder surgery last August.

Riddle has been getting at-bats in Minor League games, but he has not been playing shortstop. On Thursday, he hit a home run.

If Riddle keeps building up innings in the field, he could be ready by Opening Day. Miguel Rojas is currently handling shortstop.

Up next
The Marlins will face the Astros on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Jose Urena, who will be Miami's Opening Day starter, will get the nod in a game airing on Gameday Audio and an exclusive audio webcast. Urena is coming off a rough outing in which he gave up six runs in one-third of an inning against the Cardinals. Charlie Morton will start for Houston.

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

Miami Marlins, Justin Nicolino, Tomas Telis