JUPITER One baseball scout likened the Marlins’ unsuccessful bids to acquire elite closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen to an unnecessary home improvement expenditure.
“It was like having a leaky roof and deciding to put in an indoor pool,” the scout said.
The Marlins, in other words, had more pressing needs.
They already had a closer in A.J. Ramos, who had a better save rate than either Chapman or Jansen. And they have another, Kyle Barraclough, waiting in the wings to become one.
“This guy’s got a chance to become an end-of-the-game guy for a while,’ said Marlins manager Don Mattingly of the righty Barraclough.
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Barraclough, 26, is coming off a breakout season in which he established himself as a late-inning force by setting a franchise strikeout record. Barraclough’s strikeout rate of 14 whiffs per nine innings was not only a new club mark but was third-highest in the majors last season.
Only the Yankees’ Dellin Betances (15.53 K’s per nine innings) and Andrew Miller (14.89 with the Yankees and Indians) had higher whiff rates.
“We saw a guy who was dominant, honestly,” Mattingly said. “He’s got nasty stuff.”
During his first two big-league seasons, Barraclough is the only pitcher in the majors who has not given up a home run in at least 150 at-bats facing a right-handed hitter.
Right-handers have hit just .160 against Barraclough. Left-handers have fared only slightly better at .192.
“Those right-handers did not want to see him at all,” Mattingly said. “And even though he wasn’t as good against lefties, his numbers against lefties were pretty good.”
The Marlins’ decision to trade former closer Steve Cishek for Barraclough at the 2015 July deadline is looking like a smart one. Last season, Barraclough went 6-3 with a 2.59 ERA in 75 appearances.
But there is still room for improvement. While Barraclough racked up the strikeouts, he issued plenty of walks — nearly six per nine innings. He also had issues with holding baserunners.
Barraclough’s command problems reared their ugly head Friday when he hit a batter and walked four in a one-inning outing against the Twins.
“I obviously walked a lot of guys last year, so that’s one thing where I’m focusing on this year,” Barraclough said. “It’s something I’ve battled my entire life. For the most part, I’ve been able to work around that issue.”
Barraclough said as the year progressed last season he was better able to pitch to contact, producing an upswing in ground-ball outs and limiting his pitch count in the process.
“You saw at the beginning of the year it was 25, 30 pitches an inning versus the end of the year when it was 15, 16, 17 pitches an inning,” he said.
“I think it was just more trusting my fastball, getting ahead in the count.”
But Barraclough can still get the strikeout when he needs one.
“I’m not going to say I never pitch for strikeouts,” Barraclough said. “If I get a guy to two strikes, I expect to punch him out.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Mattingly said it’s unlikely that Jeff Locke (left biceps tendinitis) will be ready for the start of the season and that either Nick Wittgren or Steve Ellington could fill his bullpen spot.
▪ The Marlins made their first roster cuts Thursday, optioning right-hander Jake Esch to Triple A New Orleans while assigning seven others to minor-league camp: right-hander Juan Benitez, left-handers Nick Maronde, Caleb Thielbar and Matt Tomshaw, and catchers Chris Hoo, Rodrigo Vigil and Cam Maron.
The moves left 55 players on the spring roster.
▪ Saturday: Marlins RHP Scott Copeland at Houston Astros RHP Mike Fiers, 1:05 p.m., West Palm Beach.
▪ Sunday: Marlins (TBA) vs. St. Louis Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.