JUPITER, Fla. -- The Marlins made a series of moves on Tuesday morning that give a much clearer picture of how their rotation and bullpen will shape up for Opening Day.Justin Nicolino, who was competing for the fifth-starter spot, right-hander Brian Ellington, lefty Hunter Cervenka and catcher Tomas Telis were
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Marlins made a series of moves on Tuesday morning that give a much clearer picture of how their rotation and bullpen will shape up for Opening Day.
Justin Nicolino, who was competing for the fifth-starter spot, right-hander Brian Ellington, lefty Hunter Cervenka and catcher Tomas Telis were optioned to Triple-A New Orleans, leaving 33 players in camp.
Sending down Nicolino means lefty Adam Conley and right-hander Jose Urena are expected to make the club. Manager Don Mattingly did not announce who would be the fifth starter, but it appears Conley has secured a rotation spot.
Urena, who is out of options, could still be announced as the fifth starter, but his role will most likely be in long relief.
Mattingly did say optioning Nicolino was a tough call.
"That was probably our toughest decision," Mattingly said. "He pitched really well this spring. I shouldn't say surprised, because we know it's there. But coming into camp, I kind of looked at him as an outside chance, really. He's really opened a lot of eyes and a lot of conversation about who that fifth guy should be."
Nicolino's fastball velocity increased, reaching between 90-92 mph. His fastball touched 93 mph in his last start, which was five shutout innings on Saturday in a win over the Cardinals.
In 16 1/3 frames of Grapefruit League action, Nicolino posted a 3.86 ERA.
"The decision with him was the toughest one," Mattingly said. "That was a hard decision."
Nicolino could have stuck as a long-relief candidate, but the organization felt it was better to have him starting in New Orleans.
"The one thing about putting him in the 'pen, the danger is, if we'd go a month and our starters are pitching really well," Mattingly said, "then, somebody goes down after that, and now he's not built up any more."
The Marlins have already announced their first four starters -- Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily, Tom Koehler and Wei-Yin Chen.
Conley got the nod over Nicolino largely because of his track record. In 2016, the left-hander went 8-6 with a 3.85 ERA. This spring, he has struggled, going 0-3 with a 6.94 ERA.
"His spring hasn't been great, and we know that," Mattingly said. "But his body of work has been pretty good. If we didn't know anybody and we just watched Spring Training, we might have made different decisions."
<e've a="" adam.="" also="" body="" buys="" from="" him="" of="" p="" seen="" small="" that="" think="" this="" we="" work="">Optioning Cervenka and Ellington clears the path for right-hander Nick Wittgren to make the roster as the eighth and final reliever. </e've>
Left-hander Jeff Locke (biceps tendinitis) will open the season on the disabled list.
Now that Nicolino isn't a bullpen option, the Marlins are expected to carry eight right-handers and no lefties. The bullpen will likely be as follows: A.J. Ramos (closer), Brad Ziegler, David Phelps, Kyle Barraclough, Junichi Tazawa, Dustin McGowan, Urena and Wittgren.
Sending down Telis was expected after A.J. Ellis was cleared to play in Grapefruit League games. The Marlins will not be carrying a third catcher.
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.