Phelps setting trend in Marlins' bullpen

Miami grooming young relief arms to fit in 'utility pitcher' mold

Phelps setting trend in Marlins' bullpen

WASHINGTON -- David Phelps has half-jokingly referred to himself as a "utility pitcher," because he offers so many options -- having been a starter, a long reliever and even a one-inning setup man.

To the Marlins, Phelps' flexibility is invaluable. Actually, the right-hander has become the prototype of what the organization is seeking from most of its relievers. It is by design Miami is carrying five relievers who have a history of throwing multiple innings.

The need for versatility was shown in Thursday's 6-4 win at Washington. Because of an 85-minute rain delay in the bottom of the second inning, starter Adam Conley lasted just one inning. Phelps came to the rescue and gave manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Juan Nieves four scoreless innings.

Bryan Morris pitched 1 2/3 innings and Craig Breslow threw 1 1/3 innings, then closer A.J. Ramos -- the one reliever the club really wants to only work one frame -- locked down his first save.

Ramos gets the save

"That was something in talking with Donnie and Juan, we wanted to make sure we were covered," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said.

It's no secret the Marlins' rotation has question marks as far as innings. Jose Fernandez, who threw just 64 2/3 innings last year, has a limit of around 180 this season. Jarred Cosart is coming off a season in which he threw 69 2/3 innings, and Conley pitched 67 innings.

"We have our innings range with Jose, and we have some guys you're going to watch and see how they perform," Hill said.

Three games into the season, Miami's bullpen already is taxed, compiling 17 1/3 innings, compared to 11 2/3 from the starters. From a recovery standpoint, Friday's day off is a relief.

In many ways, Phelps is as valuable as any starter, because he can pitch several times a week in any situation.

"It kind of takes a little bit of the handcuffs off Donnie, as far as you don't have all guys out there with traditional roles," Phelps said. "I think our bullpen as a whole right now, we're still trying to get a feel as to what our identity is going to be. The more we can go out there and show what we're capable of, the better feel we're going to get."

Along with Phelps, Marlins relievers Edwin Jackson, Dustin McGowan and Chris Narveson all are former starters. Breslow has made two starts in his big league career, and six times has thrown more than three innings. He had a 5 1/3-inning outing last Oct. 3 for the Red Sox.

Morris and Mike Dunn, who currently is on the disabled list, project more as one-inning setup relievers. But Morris has gone two innings or more 27 times in his career.

Morris induces double play

"There are guys you know if you used them yesterday, they're probably not going to be available," Mattingly said. "So again, when you're playing from behind, you're trying to preserve your assets and get through that game, but also knowing you've got another game the next day."

The tradeoff for innings eaters is the bullpen right now doesn't feature any traditional power arms. Carter Capps, who throws 100, had Tommy John surgery in Spring Training. Dunn, who throws 95 mph, is recovering from a strained left elbow. He could be back the next homestand.

At Triple-A New Orleans, however, there are four right-handers who throw 95-100 mph: Kyle Barraclough, Brian Ellington, Nefi Ogando and Jose Urena. All four are being groomed to throw multiple innings, too.

"Quite frankly, we have four guys in the Triple-A bullpen who are all mid-90s-to-100 guys," Hill said. "But we want to get them finished off.

"In the past, we probably would have rushed those guys and had them here in the big leagues, and they would have had their growing pains in the big leagues. So we're trying to get them consistent in the Minor Leagues, so that when they do come to the big leagues, they're ready to help us win games."

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.