WASHINGTON -- A few days into the season and already the unpredictability of April weather has the Marlins monitoring more closely their Triple-A New Orleans affiliate.
Bracing for anything, the Marlins the other night instructed New Orleans to hold right-hander Jose Urena's pitch count down, just in case he is needed in the big leagues next week. And lefty Justin Nicolino is pretty much on standby in case Wei-Yin Chen needs more time to rest his bruised left elbow.
Urena offers flexibility as a spot starter or long reliever with the Marlins, while Nicolino is strictly a rotation piece.
In his first New Orleans start, Nicolino picked up a win, giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits in six innings with no walks and four strikeouts. Urena made a Minor League start, but was removed after two innings, giving up three runs, along with three walks and two strikeouts.
"We held [Urena] back a little bit, keeping his pitch count down, not knowing what was going to happen moving forward here," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
It's been a frantic first week for the Marlins. On Opening Night, Chen was struck on the elbow by a comeback liner and finished with just five innings. And in the second game, Jose Fernandez lasted 5 2/3 innings.
On Thursday, in the series opener at Washington, an 85-minute rain delay limited Adam Conley to just one inning, leaving the bullpen to pick up the remaining eight.
After a scheduled off-day on Friday, the Marlins had their Saturday game postponed due to blustery conditions.
Late in Spring Training, Mattingly spoke about needing pitching depth and letting some of the young arms like Nicolino, Urena and relievers Kyle Barraclough and Brian Ellington get more Minor League seasoning.
"We talked about in Spring Training, which is 100 percent true, we want these guys to continue to improve, so the next time when you call them up, you don't have to send them back, unless it's just a roster thing," Mattingly said.
Nicolino, 24, is regarded as the "sixth man" in the rotation. Conley is now slated to start on Wednesday against the Mets in New York, with Chen being pushed back to Friday's series opener with the Braves. But if a starter goes down for any extended period, Nicolino is likely the first callup.
"This is a guy, I think, is never going to be on those top prospects lists, because he's throwing 90 mph," Mattingly said of Nicolino. "But he's a guy, I think, is going to be a solid starter in the big leagues for a long time, if he stays healthy. He's going to get better. He's competitive. He's a smart kid. I think he's going to get stronger as he matures into his body.
"He is one of those guys who doesn't make people go, 'Woo, woo,' but he gets people out."
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.