The Marlins knew it would take a while to sort out their bullpen this spring. But it has begun to gain some clarity in recent days.
Asked Friday what pitchers he can say, with confidence, would be in his seven-man bullpen on Opening Day, Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said, "as of today'' that group would include closer Leo Nunez, Brian Sanches, Burke Badenhop, Jose Veras and left-handers Dan Meyer and Renyel Pinto.
"Things can change with trades, waiver-wire acquisitions, that kind of stuff,'' Gonzalez said. "That's why I hate to say these guys are for sure.''
If the current projected group holds up, that would leave Mike MacDougal and Seth McClung among top contenders for the final opening, which would almost assuredly go to a right-hander. Gonzalez said Rick VandenHurk, Hayden Penn and Clay Hensley also would be candidates if they don't make the rotation. Those three are competing with Chris Volstad and Andrew Miller for two open rotation spots.
It always was assumed that Nunez, Sanches and Meyer would make the team. As for the others Gonzalez included:
-- Veras, a former Yankees and Indians reliever, impressed early in camp by pitching two scoreless innings and faring well in minor-league games, too.
"I like his stuff,'' Gonzalez said. But about four hours after Gonzalez's comments, Veras gave up four runs and four hits in 1 2/3 innings against St. Louis, the last two of those runs scoring after Meyer allowed a double to Amaury Cazana.
"Veras did all right,'' Gonzalez said afterward.
-- Badenhop hasn't allowed a run in 4 2/3 innings this spring, and the Marlins like his versatility. His work last year (7-4, 3.75 earned-run average) also is a factor.
-- Pinto hasn't been effective this spring (13.50 ERA, nine baserunners in 3— innings) but is earning $1 million and cannot be optioned to the minors without clearing waivers. Pinto was 4-1 with a 3.23 ERA last season but was oddly more effective against right-handers than left-handers.
Taylor Tankersley was sent to Triple A New Orleans on Friday, leaving Hunter Jones as the only other lefty in camp, besides Meyer and Pinto.
Jones likely would make the team only if there's an injury to Meyer or Pinto, or if Pinto is traded. Jones, who has pitched three scoreless innings this spring, had a 9.24 ERA in 11 appearances for Boston last year. "Jones has been impressive,'' Gonzalez said.
MacDougal is the most experienced of the contenders, having saved 20 in 21 chances for Washington last season. He has allowed four hits, four walks and two runs in four innings.
"My velocity isn't quite there yet coming off hip surgery,'' he said.
McClung, who was 3-3 with a 4.94 ERA for Milwaukee last season, has allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings, though he also has six strikeouts.
Because of clauses in their contract, MacDougal, McClung and Hensley can refuse a demotion to the minors if they do not make the big-league team. Penn is out of minor-league options, and unlike last year, the Marlins probably could not slip him though waivers because he has pitched well this spring.