The Miami Marlins go into Spring Training with plenty of contenders for the open closer role on the pitching staff. Who will come out was with the job?
The Miami Marlins need to find more consistency in its closer role from last season. The 2018 version was anything but stable as manager Don Mattingly started the season with Brad Ziegler, moved on to Kyle Barraclough and wound up with a committee to finish games. It was part of the reason Miami was 63-98 last season as the bullpen shut down in late innings, ruining solid starts by its young starters.
The Marlins had the sixth-worst ERA in Major League Baseball last season, and the worst figure in the National Leage. Finding more control out of the bullpen could lead to a handful more wins in 2019.
Miami, Mattingly and the front office march into Jupiter when pitchers and catcher report on Feb. 13. Like a kid in a candy store, I’m excited for the start of balls and strikes. It will be a challenge for new Marlins pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, Jr.
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I’m also cautious to see how the specialist’s role unfolds as I am not sure the combination of Drew Steckenrider, Adam Conley and Tayron Guerrero will be the only ones asked to take the ball when the game is on the line.
It’s one of the many mysterious storylines to follow in the next month.
Joe Frisaro of MLB.com talked about the possibility of all three pitchers having the opportunity to win the all-important role in camp. He breaks it down in his most recent “Inbox” feature. Frisaro, who covers the Marlins daily in South Florida, picks the favorite to grab the spot.
"“My guess is Steckenrider will get most of the opportunities, at least early in the season, but the organization may not settle on just one. At the Winter Meetings, manager Don Mattingly said the club is open to playing matchups,” he writes."
Steckenrider proved to be a solid setup man for Barraclough after he took over the role before the All-Star break. The 28-year-old righty saved five games last season, but appeared in 71 games and posted a 3.28 ERA. He is a workhorse who could get better by pitching fewer innings.
I like Conley’s chances. Having started his career in the rotation, he has the ability to eat innings late in games and could become Steckenrider’s “best friend.”
"“Conley, a left-hander, could be called upon to close if left-handed-hitting threats are lined up to bat in the ninth,” Frisaro adds. “You could see Conley pitching the eighth and Steckenrider the ninth in one game, and the two switching roles for the next save opportunity.”"
Last season, Conley saved the first three games of his career and posted a 4.09 ERA in 52 games. I think there is still a chance Conely could be traded late in the season for a team needing long relief help during a run toward the playoffs.
I have thought all along, Guerrero, who may be the hardest throwing pitcher on Miami’s staff, could eventually become the team’s ninth-inning specialist. There are others in the organization, namely Jorge Guzman and Tommy Eveld, two pitchers still working on their mechanics in the minors, who could emerge in a couple of years to lock down the position.
For now, Guerrero, who posted a 1-3 record last season with no saves in 60 games, remains the wildcard in this competition. He also posted a 5.43 ERA last year, something the coaching staff will need to work on with him if he wants to land this role.
"“Guerrero may be better suited for a setup role. If he gains better command of a second pitch — specifically, his slider — then he could be a more realistic candidate to close,” Frisaro wrote."