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Kensing expected to take on big role

Marlins' Kensing to take on big role

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JUPITER, Fla. -- Branded on the inside of his right elbow is a zipper-shaped scar from the surgery that set him back for more than a year.

"I look at it every day," Logan Kensing said. "It just reminds me of where I came from to where I am at now, as I try to stay healthy and prove myself again."

Kensing continues to reestablish himself as he battles back from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. The procedure took place on Aug. 31, 2006, and the 25-year-old right-handed reliever was back in the bullpen on Sept. 2, 2007.

Now in Spring Training, Kensing is a front-runner to win a spot in a talented Marlins bullpen. A former second-round Draft pick in 2003, the Texas A&M product has a chance to become a valuable asset in relief for manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Before experiencing arm troubles, Kensing was used in the late innings by former manager Joe Girardi. Early in that year, he had a few save chances, and he had mixed success in the role. Considering the youth of that squad, he wasn't the only Florida pitcher to be rushed into on-the-job training.

He chalks that year up as a learning experience and credits Girardi for the way he dealt with a young squad.

"In '06, he gave us all chances and it put confidence in us," Kensing said. "I think it all shows in the young guys. None of us knew what we were doing, and he kind of showed us the way."

Life as a reliever is about dealing with highs and lows, regrouping and being ready to compete every day.

During the long stretches where Kensing was shut down, he made the most of figuring out the game as an observer. He studied other pitchers and hitter tendencies, and he now has a better grasp of the mental approach to the game.

With each outing now, he's getting more polished, and his bread-and-butter pitch, his slider, continues to regain its life and effectiveness.

"It was really frustrating not to get out there and get stuff done early in my career," he said. "Just sitting on the sideline, I think you kind of rekindle the flame of wanting to be out there and wanting to pitch."

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Figuring out how to pitch also was crucial, and he noticed the way pitchers changed speeds and worked both sides of the plate.

In '07, Kensing was able to regain some confidence with a strong September. He appeared in nine games and went 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in 13 1/3 innings.

"What he meant to us last year in September was another nice arm, and a couple of years ago, this guy was a solid guy," Gonzalez said. "Having him in the bullpen makes our bullpen that much stronger and that much deeper. I'm looking forward to him having a full year for us."

To help get by in his year of recovery, Kensing fished a lot and played some golf. He ended up hanging out with his close friend and teammate, Josh Johnson, who also had Tommy John surgery last August.

Entering the season, Kensing projects to factor into a setup role. He can work the sixth, seventh or eighth innings. For now, until his arm strength is built up more, it is unlikely he will be used more than an inning, but that may change down the road.

"In Girardi's year, he let me go out there and get a shot," said Kensing, who was 1-3 with a 4.54 ERA in 37 games in '06. "He built up the confidence in all of us, and after the surgery, I just kept going with that."

Formerly a starter, Kensing moved full time to the bullpen in 2006. Since then, he has a better understanding of the mind-set of a reliever.

"I'm not saying [throwing] one inning is easy or anything, but for one inning it is easier than going out there, putting your back against the wall and fighting guys [for multiple innings]," he said.

With a mid-90s fastball coupled with his slider, Kensing has the weapons to someday move into the closer role. This year, that job is handled by Kevin Gregg, but Kensing could potentially be his successor.

"I hope so. I think that would be awesome," he said. "I'd love to get the ball, hopefully three days out of four, and go out there and shut people down. But whatever they want me to do, I'll go out there and do it. If they want me to start again, I'll go out there and try to build up arm strength. It's whatever they want."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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