Conley finishes strong in first quality start

Conley finishes strong in first quality start

MIAMI -- For Adam Conley, Sunday afternoon's outing really came down to how he finished over the way he started in Miami's 2-0 loss to the Phillies at Marlins Park.

The rookie, aiming to work deep into games and show he can be a big league starter, was able to regroup and make it through a career-most six innings and 106 pitches, yielding just one run.

At a time the game could have slipped away from him in the fourth inning, Conley collected two critical strikeouts to escape a bases-loaded, one-out jam. Already trailing by a run, the lefty fanned Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola on four pitches, setting up a pivotal showdown with leadoff batter Cesar Hernandez.

The eight-pitch encounter went Conley's way, as Hernandez swung through an 86-mph changeup with the count 1-2.

Hernandez fouled off four straight two-strike pitches before taking a 95-mph fastball for a ball. The next pitch was a well-executed changeup for strike three, stranding three.

"That was big for me," Conley said. "I'd been kind of fighting myself all day, knowing I didn't really have my good stuff, and it was going to be a battle all day."

Conley topped 80 pitches in the fourth inning, and he could have been on his way to a third straight start of not going more than five innings. But he retired the final eight he faced and posted his first big league quality start, scattering three hits with four walks (one intentional) and five strikeouts.

"Six innings: When we can get that, especially from a rookie, that's huge for us," manager Dan Jennings said. "Our bullpen has been taxed of late. For him to do that was big."

A second-round Draft pick of the Marlins in 2011, the organization is striving to see if Conley has a chance to factor into its rotation plans in '16. Even if he doesn't win one of five Opening Day spots, he could be an option either during the season, or perhaps be used in relief.

Conley has now appeared in eight big league games, with four starts. It's been a struggle to get deeper into games, as in his last outing -- a no-decision against the Brewers -- he was lifted after 3 2/3 innings.

"I think today started off pretty rough, but I was able to find some rhythm there at the end," he said. "I made the best of my pitches towards the end there."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.