Their arms didn’t fall off. Not literally.
But for a bullpen that was called on frequently to make up for the repeated shortcomings of the Marlins’ starting pitchers in 2017, it must have felt as though they would.
Last season, Marlins relievers logged 612 innings, the second-highest total by any bullpen in major league history.
“It was challenging, for sure,” said Marlins veteran reliever Brad Ziegler.
The absence of Jose Fernandez, a league-wide philosophical shift toward greater bullpen usage and an overall lack of staying power by the starting staff added up to the most demanding season in team history for Marlins relievers.
Fixing the problem won’t be easy for manager Don Mattingly.
The Marlins didn’t add a frontline starter to their rotation mix, and beyond Dan Straily and Jose Ureña, have no one else who can reasonably be counted on to eat up innings and spare the pen.
“If you’re asking for four innings a night out of your pen, I don’t care what you’re doing, it’s not going to be a good situation for you at the end of the year,” Mattingly said.
Marlins starters averaged barely more than five innings per outing last season.
Miami had only 57 games — the fewest of any team in the Majors — in which their starters managed to go at least six innings. By contrast, the Nationals had 110 such games from their starters.
The loss of Fernandez, who was killed in a boating accident, was a contributing factor in last season’s heavy bullpen usage. Fernandez in 2016 logged 13 games in which he went at least seven innings.
With Fernandez gone, all of the Marlins starting pitchers combined for just 18 such outings, with Straily leading the way with four. And with no Fernandez the Marlins knew they would have to put a greater emphasis on their bullpen to make up for shortcoming in their rotation.
“We set ourselves up last year to be able to go to the bullpen,” Mattingly said. “We thought that was the team we were going to end up being. But you still need more consistent innings out of your starters. They’ve got to keep you in the game, and that’s where we started running into trouble.”
Having gone through a season like last year’s, Ziegler said Marlins relievers should have a better understanding of what to expect and prepare accordingly.
“Last year was a bit of an adjustment period in that they were trying this new philosophy,” Ziegler said of the change in pitching usage. “It was an adjustment for everybody and that includes us. We have to come into their year prepared for that. We have to be ready, built up a little more to tolerate those innings.”
Mattingly and the Marlins can also hope the starters are able to take them deeper into games. If the starters can even record one additional out per outing on average, it would spare the bullpen 54 innings per season, hypothetically.
Marlins reliever Brian Ellington is being shut down after being diagnosed with biceps tendinitis in his throwing arm.
Ellington faced just two batters Sunday before being pulled.
“He had a good little bit of wildness,” Mattingly said. “His velocities were down a little bit. So it was a little bit of a red flag.”
A CLOSE WATCH
The Marlins will carefully monitor the workloads of Dillon Peters and Jarlin Garcia this year, Mattingly said.
Peters spent two months on the disabled list last season and totaled just 94 innings while Garcia is returning to a starting role after throwing 53 innings out of the Marlins bullpen last season.
The Marlins will likely cap the number of innings each pitcher throws this season.
For the second straight game, Peters struggled with his strike-zone command on Monday. Peters walked three batters in the first inning, throwing only 13 of his 35 pitches for strikes.
In his previous outing, Peters walked four batters in a third of an inning.
▪ All 162 Marlins regular season games will be televised locally this season.
Fox Sports Florida is televising 158 games. FS1 and Fox Sports will televise four games nationally.