Even before Don Mattingly arrived in Jupiter, the talk has already begun.
The Miami Marlins bench and starting lineup was essentially complete. The pitching staff was full of new arms and returning players, but deciding which 12 or 13 players would make the cut was the hard part. The Grapefruit League began in earnest last week, and questions still remain about which select few make the final cut.
If you take the half full approach of the debate, it’s a good problem to have. You can never have to much pitching, no matter how good your rotation is. If you are on the other side of the fence, this could be the decision that causes nightmares and uneasiness within the clubhouse. There aren’t enough innings to go around and the bullpen only has so many seats.
What’s a team like the Marlins to do?
“Building some positive momentum for Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena was the biggest takeaway from the Marlins' 8-5 loss to the Nationals on Friday afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium,” writes Joe Frisaro of MLB.com.
“Miami is seeking as much pitching depth as possible, and the two are expected to be counted on this season.”
Urena is in more of a bind than anyone on the spring training roster. Left without minor league options, he must make the roster or risk being released. The Marlins could try to trade him, but his arm could be part of the future of this organization. Miami’s minor league depth isn’t as strong as other club’s and the team would like to hold onto Urena.
In the game against Washington, Nicolino gave up one run in two innings, and worked out of a first-inning jam, to finish on a positive note. Urena threw two scoreless innings of relief, striking out four while allowing two hits and a walk.
Mattingly was pleased with what he saw and hopes that continues as others take to the mound for their own auditions.
"I think it's confidence for both of those guys," manager Don Mattingly said. "You need confidence first. And Nico, just knowing what he wants to do with his stuff. He wants to use his mix. He's not going to overpower you, but he's got to be able to control his mix, and keep guys off balance."
If Nicolino or Urena or both make the opening day roster, they will be the team’s last decisions. The six pitchers who are fighting for five starting spots will lose one to the pen. The offseason signees make this a deep relief corps.
Urena is a hard-throwing right-hander who touched 95 and mixed in some changeups and breaking balls.
"Jose can make a few more mistakes because he's got the power, but he still has to learn to use his stuff," Mattingly said. "Guys are going to hit the hard stuff. He's still got to be able to get his secondary stuff over, and change speeds enough to keep teams off balance."
Nicolino has an option, so he could start off with the Baby Cakes if he doesn't make the opening day roster. In 2016, Nicolino made 13 starts and appeared in 18 games with the Marlins, going 3-6 with a 4.99 ERA.
Urena was 4-9 with a 6.13 ERA in 28 appearances, with 12 starts. But at Triple-A, he had a 3.17 ERA, and he possesses a 95-plus mph fastball.