Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler thrives on inner drive

“I always feel like I have something to prove, and I don’t think that’s something that will ever leave me,” Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler said.
“I always feel like I have something to prove, and I don’t think that’s something that will ever leave me,” Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler said. EL Nuevo Herald

Tom Koehler has done the math.

Or, in the form of a word problem: If Koehler totaled 191 innings over 32 starts last season, how many extra outs per start — assuming he starts exactly 30 games — would it take to reach his desired goal of 200 innings?

Allow Koehler to provide the answer.

“If you record one extra out in each game,” Koehler explained, “that’s nine innings over 30 starts.”

And 191 plus 9 equals ... well, you get the idea.

Math isn’t Koehler’s area of expertise. Pitching is.

But Koehler, one of the few Marlins with a college degree — a bachelor of arts in history and sociology from Stony Brook University — has combined brains with his blue-collar work drive to forge a projected spot in the team’s five-man rotation. His rise to the majors hasn’t come on talent alone.

Much of it can be attributed to his inner drive, having to prove himself over and over again.

“It’s always been that way,” said Koehler, who made his first spring appearance Thursday when the Marlins defeated the Boston Red Sox 5-3. “My whole career, that’s what I had to deal with.”

Koehler was an 18th-round draft pick by the Marlins in 2008, the same year the team selected catcher Kyle Skipworth in the first round and pitcher Brad Hand in the second. Being chosen so low is usually a sure ticket for a brief minor-league career and nothing more.

“My first season in the minors, I was put in the bullpen for a guy that was drafted ahead of me,” Koehler said. “I had to show that I had the ability to start. I moved through the system, I had a really good year in Double A, and it took me a while after that to get to the big leagues.

“I always feel like I have something to prove, and I don’t think that’s something that will ever leave me,” he continued. “I don’t know if that’s something I learned growing up, and my parents kind of instilled that in me.”

Whatever the origin, it’s something that helps separates Koehler from other pitchers.

There have been several occasions where Koehler has been knocked around early, yet managed to survive the pummeling and remain on the hill until the fifth or sixth innings, sparing the bullpen.

“Those are the games you take pride in because it’s easy to cave in and say, ‘OK, I’m done for the day,’ ” Koehler said. “But you can help your team out a lot by staying in that game as long as you can.”

Koehler’s warrior attitude is recognized by his teammates.

“He has good stuff, obviously,” said Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis. “He has four pitches, with the curveball being the best one. But he’s a big-time competitor, which sticks out in my mind.”

Koehler figures to remain in the rotation, though that could change. As the fifth man on the starting staff, his position is the least certain.

Hand and David Phelps also bring starting experience. The Marlins were also in discussions for free agent starter James Shields before being outbid. Those reports didn’t go unnoticed by Koehler.

“I understand the organization is going to put the five best guys they think they can do the job in those positions,” he said. “For me, it’s to prepare as I always do and show them I’m one of those five.”

Said Michael Hill, the Marlins’ president of baseball operations: “He gets better every year.”

ROSTER BATTLES

One day after Mike Redmond’s lineup card closely resembled the one he’ll likely be filling out for Opening Day, he stuffed Friday’s lineup with players vying for what few bench spots are up for grabs.

And so — with the exception of Marcell Ozuna and Michael Morse — Friday’s lineup at jetBlue Park was crammed with the likes of Jordany Valdespin, Donovan Solano, Don Kelly, Reed Johnson and Miguel Rojas.

“You look at the lineup [Friday], and these are all guys trying to earn a spot on that bench,” Redmond said. “When you’re trying to make a decision on just a couple spots, you want those guys to be able to go out and compete and get as many at-bats as they can.”

The fact that only a couple of roster spots are available — specifically, a fifth outfielder and utility infielder — games such as Friday’s are important for not only those players, but for the Marlins’ front office in determining which players will survive the cut and open the season with the club.

“These guys are fighting for a spot,” Redmond said. “Last year we had several spots open. This year, it’s getting tighter. That means we’re improving and the competition is getting stiffer, and that’s good. That’s what you want. You want to have those tough decisions.”

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