Urena in mix for Marlins setup role

If righty harnesses command, he could become reliable late-inning option

Urena in mix for Marlins setup role

JUPITER, Fla. -- It's not necessarily the answer to replacing Carter Capps' blazing fastball, but the Marlins are using the final days of Spring Training to see if one of their promising young starting pitchers can convert to a flame-throwing reliever.

Jose Urena, the 24-year-old groomed as a starter throughout his Minor League career, is now a candidate to make the Opening Day roster as a setup reliever.

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Urena, who threw 61 2/3 innings in the big leagues last year, worked one inning of scoreless relief on Wednesday in a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Although he gave up two hits, Urena showcased his power arm. His fastball was regularly tracked at 98-99 mph.

Capps was the hardest throwing pitcher in the organization, reaching as high as 101 mph in 2015. But the right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery early in Spring Training, and he will miss the entire season.

The Marlins have their share of hard throwers for the late innings, including right-hander Bryan Morris and lefty Mike Dunn.

Urena may eventually emerge in the role. He is in the mix for a bullpen spot along with Dustin McGowan and Nefi Ogando, who has options and may open the year in Triple-A New Orleans.

"We're looking at [Urena] in some one-inning stuff to see what that looks like and to give us some more choices along that front," manager Don Mattingly said. "So we basically tried him the last couple of times in shorter outings."

In 2015, Urena split time between the Minors and big leagues, going 1-5 with a 5.25 ERA in 20 games with nine starts in the Majors. But out of the bullpen, he was used mostly in long relief or mop-up roles.

For now, Urena is being looked at as a setup option.

According to FanGraphs, Urena's fastball velocity average was 93.8 mph in 2015. Expect higher readings if he is in a one-inning role. It's common for pitchers to throw harder out of the bullpen, where they can give maximum effort for one inning, compared to pacing themselves to go deeper into games as a starter.

The Marlins also have the luxury of being able to send Urena to Triple-A to open the season to work more on his command if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster.

Because of the power fastball, Urena is intriguing in a setup role. The question is command. Throwing hard is a plus, but more important is spotting pitches. If Urena can harness the command of his fastball, he could become a weapon in the late innings.

"He could be," Mattingly said. "That's what we're trying to explore and find out -- if that is a possibility for us."

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.