The Marlins have multiple decisions to make over the next month regarding their starting rotation.
Jarlin Garcia might make one of those choices simple for them with a good performance this spring training.
Already one of the team’s most reliable relievers a year ago as a rookie and their go-to lefty out of the bullpen, Garcia racked up plenty of starting experience on his path to the majors.
So Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Thursday the plan is to put Garcia back in that role whether he earns a spot immediately to start the season or opens the year in the minors.
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“I trained all offseason to get physically and mentally ready for this battle to be a starter and now it’s all about having a positive mindset to go out there and battle every day,” Garcia said.
Garcia, 25, made a team-high 68 appearances a year ago and took on a heavy workload with little to no lefty options in the Marlins’ bullpen throughout the season.
Garcia went 1-2 with a 4.73 ERA in 53 1/3 innings while totaling 42 strikeouts and 17 walks.
Garcia had the fourth-most innings of any Marlins reliever that did not start a game, and finished with the second-best ERA among that group behind Kyle Barraclough (3.00).
The Marlins hope to stabilize a rotation that had 12 different starters last season and compiled a 5.12 ERA, which ranked third-worst in the National League.
Mattingly has named only Dan Straily and Jose Urena as starters entering the spring, leaving three spots open to roughly nine candidates, including lefties such as Adam Conley, Dillon Peters, Caleb Smith and Justin Nicolino.
There’s also Wei-Yin Chen, who the Marlins already said won’t be ready for the start of the season but could find his way into the rotation if his throwing program during spring training goes well.
But Garcia might just have the tools to nab one of those vacancies if he can continue to develop the command of a fastball that was clocked at 94.35 mph by Statcast, which is above the MLB average (93.59), and effectiveness of his changeup, slider and breaking ball.
“Jarlin is one of the few guys that has incredible feel for the change-up and wipeout slider,” Marlins pitching coach Juan Nieves said. “It comes down to the fastball command. If you look at the quality of the numbers against change-ups and breaking balls for strikes and balls the percentage was extremely high. It was just the urge of a young hard-throwing lefty trying to throw the ball harder than normal in a fastball situation. That’s what he needs to understand. It’s ‘I don’t need to throw the ball harder just more efficient with my fastball.’ Once he gets that, I think the sky’s the limit with this kid.”
Garcia, who made 77 starts over three minor-league seasons from 2013-2016 as he progressed from the Single-A to the Double-A level, said he went back home to the Dominican Republic in the offseason and did some extra training to get his body ready for the extra workload of being a starter.
“I did a lot of training to strengthen my arm and build up my endurance because as a starter I know I’ll need that,” Garcia said. “It’s not a big adjustment for me having been a starter. The key is to prepare mentally.”
Garcia said pitching and having some success in high-leverage innings amounted to valuable experience that he hopes to build upon going forward.
“Last year helped me mature as a professional,” Garcia said. “I learned how to manage situations on the mound, how to handle my emotions and control my body and try to always make a quality pitch in order to get outs.
“I think I have what it takes to be a starter in the majors and I had faith that I could get to that point, and here we are with a new opportunity and a new regime, so I need to stay positive and keep working hard.”