JUPITER, Fla. -- Before the Marlins took the field on Friday night to face the Nationals, their Opening Day starter had already closed out his Spring Training by tossing six innings in a Minor League game.Right-hander Jose Urena, who will face the Cubs when the season starts on Thursday at
JUPITER, Fla. -- Before the Marlins took the field on Friday night to face the Nationals, their Opening Day starter had already closed out his Spring Training by tossing six innings in a Minor League game.
Right-hander Jose Urena, who will face the Cubs when the season starts on Thursday at Marlins Park, ran his pitch count up to 88 in a Class A Advanced game against the Astros on Field 4 of the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex.
As much of an honor it is for him to get the nod on Opening Day, Urena is thinking about the bigger picture.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
"I'm getting ready, not just for the Cubs but every team that's out there," Urena said. "To be ready for it."
In his final spring outing, Urena allowed two runs on four hits with six strikeouts and three walks. His fastball was in the 94-96 mph range, and of his 88 pitches, 51 were strikes.
Urena has made great strides in a year.
Last Spring Training, he wasn't sure he would make the club. He entered camp out of options, and he opened 2017 in a relief role. He ended up making 28 starts, and he topped the team in wins, going 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA.
"It's nice to see that improvement," manager Don Mattingly said. "That's really what it's all about, watching guys get better. He's a testament to young guys. Some guys, it takes longer to catch on and kind of figure that out. You hope Jose gets better, obviously. You hope he's moved on, found his niche, and continues to improve."
Left-hander Caleb Smith, in the mix for a rotation spot, got his pitch count up to 94 in Friday's 6-3 loss to the Nationals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. He worked five innings and gave up four runs, with three walks and six strikeouts.
Smith finishes the spring with a 5.21 ERA in 19 innings, with 21 strikeouts and 11 walks.
"Coming into this, I hoped that I would show them that I'm what they're looking for," Smith said. "I want to be here. I want the ball. Every time I go out there, I'm going to give 100 percent and try to give the team the best opportunity to win. I feel I've done that, for the most part."
The Marlins have yet to announce any rotation spots, other than Urena starting the opener. The No. 2 spot had been awarded to Dan Straily, but due to inflammation in his right forearm, he will not be ready at the beginning of the season. The Marlins anticipate that Straily will be back mid-April.
But even before Straily's setback, Smith was emerging as a rotation candidate. His fastball was as high as 95 mph on Friday night.
"Obviously, there's things that we like and there's things that could get better," Mattingly said. "It seems like I say that about all of our guys. There's nobody out here that we're looking at that we think is ready for 200 innings and all that kind of thing. I think he has the makes of a guy we think can help us."
J.T. Realmuto (low back contusion) continues to play catch but is not yet doing any catching. He hasn't started hitting yet, but he could make up plenty of at-bats after Spring Training breaks on Sunday, because Minor League camp is continuing in Jupiter.
Outfielder Cameron Maybin, who was scratched on Thursday due to tightness in his right hip, hit on Friday and insists he is fine. Maybin is scheduled to play on Saturday against Washington.
Elieser Hernandez (dental surgery) is expected to throw off the mound on Saturday. He last pitched on March 11, and will open the season on the disabled list.
The Marlins visit the Nationals on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET, with Trevor Richards getting the starting nod. Richards was in big league camp earlier in the spring, but has already been sent down to Triple-A New Orleans. Max Scherzer starts for Washington. Lewis Brinson, Derek Dietrich, Maybin and Justin Bour are making the trip. The game will air on Gameday Audio.
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.