Stop me if you have heard me say this before – David Phelps is the Miami Marlins’ most important pitcher this season.
The 30-year-old who proved his value to the organization by splitting time in the bullpen and rotation last season has a new deal with the club and looks forward to moving back to the relief role, one he hopes will help the Marlins make the playoffs in 2017.
Phelps, who moved to the rotation because of inconsistency with the fifth spot in the rotation and injuries, should prove to serve as a balance between the new faces Miami signed in the offseason and a bridge to the remaining core that will come out of the pen this year.
First, before Phelps could concentrate on the upcoming season, he and the Marlins had some business to take care of. The sides were at odds over a new contract, where Miami offered $4.325 where Phelps sought more, went to arbitration and won a ruling of $4.6 million. Now, it’s time to concentrate on pitching and starting the quest for a playoff run.
"Just to have it done with [is a relief]," Phelps said via MLB.com. "You walk into the room, you shake hands. You walk out of the room, you shake hands and hug. We're still family. It's a process. It's part of the business. Unfortunately, there are times that come where you have to go through it. All we're really focused on now is winning baseball games."
The Marlins have changed their pitching philosophy this season, possibly keeping 13 arms on the opening day roster. The team may also take a page from the Cleveland Indians, using long relievers and multiple men out of the bullpen to keep the staff fresh. Phelps could be the key to this success.
"A guy like David Phelps, in our minds, is kind of our Andrew Miller," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, drawing a comparison to the Indians reliever. "He can pitch the ninth. He can pitch the eighth. He can pitch two innings. He's started. We don't really want to do that, but he is that guy. We want to have a couple of guys we feel can do that, who can go multiple [innings]."
There was even talk of using Phelps in a closer’s role with AJ Ramos after the end of last season. Those conversations have subsided for now.
Phelps comes off a solid 2016 campaign. He was 7-6 with a 2.28 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings. Phelps appeared in 64 games, five of them starts, and he finished with four saves.
Working out of the bullpen, Phelps threw 62 1/3 innings, and his 11.84 strikeouts per nine innings were sixth best among all National League relievers.