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Three players primed for fifth-starter battle

Straily, Urena, Locke will likely get roster spots no matter outcome
MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

MIAMI -- If the Marlins decide to go with eight relievers and 13 pitchers, there is a strong possibility two of the spring candidates for the rotation could open the season in the bullpen.

The front office has made it clear it is open to non-traditional approaches to get the most out of its staff. Dan Straily, Jeff Locke and Jose Urena will be in the running for the final rotation spot, but it appears all three will make the Opening Day roster.

MIAMI -- If the Marlins decide to go with eight relievers and 13 pitchers, there is a strong possibility two of the spring candidates for the rotation could open the season in the bullpen.

The front office has made it clear it is open to non-traditional approaches to get the most out of its staff. Dan Straily, Jeff Locke and Jose Urena will be in the running for the final rotation spot, but it appears all three will make the Opening Day roster.

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Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said manager Don Mattingly, pitching coach Juan Nieves and vice president of pitching development Jim Benedict are figuring out how to get the most out of what the organization has.

Straily, acquired Jan. 19 from the Reds, is the presumed favorite to be the fifth starter. Locke, a free-agent addition in December, had been a front-runner before the Straily deal.

Video: Frisaro on Marlins dealing prospects for Straily

Locke may still win the job, but if he doesn't, he could pitch in long relief and jump into the rotation if necessary.

"It may not be your traditional look," Hill said, "that your starter goes seven innings, he hands it to a setup man in the eighth and the closer comes in the ninth. There may be situations where the starter is out in the fourth or the fifth, and a bridge guy takes you to the sixth, and then you've got a setup man in the seventh and the eighth, and a closer in the ninth."

Miami also intends to give Urena every chance to make the club. The hard-throwing right-hander is out of options, so he can't be sent to Triple-A New Orleans if he doesn't get on the roster. He'd have to first be designated for assignment, and chances are slim that he would clear waivers and come back.

The Marlins could end up trading Urena, but they haven't made strong attempts to do so because they believe he has too much upside. Miami doesn't have much big league-ready starting pitching depth, and the club doesn't want to part with Urena.

Video: LAD@MIA: Urena tosses 8 2/3 scoreless innings

Lefty Justin Nicolino has pitched in the big leagues, but with one more option, he could wind up at New Orleans if he doesn't win an Opening Day spot.

Right-hander Luis Castillo was another potential candidate who could have been called up, but the Marlins sent the prospect to the Reds in the Straily trade, and his departure further increases Urena's chances to claim a roster spot.

On Tuesday, Miami acquired right-hander Severino Gonzalez, who has an option and projects to start off in New Orleans' rotation, from Philadelphia. Gonzalez, though, may wind up in the big leagues at some point in a long-relief role.

If Locke ends up in the bullpen, he could be the lone lefty in that unit, but he may be used as a specialist rather than in long relief.

Video: SEA@PIT: Locke retires Cano to end the 6th

"That's a possibility," Hill said. "But as we've said, we weren't as concerned with the handedness as we were with the quality. So if [Locke] is one of our best five, he will be in our rotation. If not, he will be in consideration to move to the bullpen."

The Marlins have created depth in the bullpen with the free-agent signings of Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa. They join closer A.J. Ramos and right-handers Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps and Dustin McGowan.

Phelps and McGowan are multi-inning candidates.

"When you look at how we've put the pitching staff together, we may have two or three who are considered long guys to take the ball whenever Donnie sees fit to get it back to the seventh and eighth innings," Hill said. "I would say it's more of a bridge to get to the back end."

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.

Miami Marlins, Jeff Locke, Dan Straily, Jose Urena