JUPITER Jose Urena knows the route from New Orleans to Miami a little too well.
Urena would like to avoid taking that trip again this season.
That, of course, will depend on whether or not the 25-year-old right-hander, who is entering his third season with the Marlins since making his major-league debut, can consistently perform at the big-league level.
“We know his stuff is good enough; it’s a matter of finding consistency from him,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
Urena has shifted from a bullpen role to a spot starter throughout his stay in the majors the past two seasons and compiled a 5-14 record with a 5.76 ERA in 21 starts and 48 overall appearances ( 145 1/3 innings).
Urena, who was born in the Dominican Republic and signed with the Marlins in 2009, has had slightly more success as a starter than a reliever.
But with the Marlins making multiple offseason acquisitions in an attempt to bolster their rotation, Urena’s ever-changing role figures to be out of the bullpen, barring unforeseen circumstances.
Urena has gone back and forth from the minors seven times the past two seasons. He went 4-9 with a 6.13 ERA last year in 83 2/3 innings.
“I think the jury is still kind of out as far as what he can be,” Mattingly said. “He likes starting, but the value is either way right now.”
Urena struggled in 16 relief appearances to open the season, going 1-1 with a 7.52 ERA in 20 1/3 innings.
But after the All-Star break, the Marlins gave Urena a chance to start after injuries depleted their rotation. Urena delivered two quality starts, during which he compiled a 1.54 ERA. But he followed that with the worst start of his young career, allowing eight runs in 4 1/3 innings.
Urena was sent down again and recalled in mid-August, remaining on the active roster until the end of the season.
Urena made nine starts, including a gem against the Dodgers in which he pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings and gave up only four hits. He compiled a 3.88 ERA in 53 1/3 innings, struck out 38 and walked 14 while giving up five home runs during that span.
But Urena regressed quickly during his final three starts, allowing 17 runs in 10 innings and four home runs.
“He sometimes just has trouble getting out of innings,” Mattingly said. “You need to be able to go to both sides of the plate effectively. Instead of just throwing and attacking all the time with your stuff which you like to see, there’s another level there. If he can get these early strikes, put them in bad counts, that lets him be more aggressive and it should help him take another step.”
Urena said he’s been working on a lot in the offseason on his struggles with command and location.
In his second spring outing on Friday, Urena pitched two scoreless innings against the Nationals and struck out four, pitching well inside and locating better.
“Mostly, I’m working on my command, especially with my breaking ball,” said Urena after his first outing Monday in Fort Myers. “I’m just trying to work it and attack the zone and trying to be more confident in my pitches and work on location.”
▪ Marcell Ozuna belted an opposite-field home run while Brian Anderson and Matt den Dekker each had two hits in a 8-5 loss to the Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium. Justin Nicolino, who retired only one batter and gave up four runs on Monday against the Twins, gave up one run on two hits in two innings.
▪ Saturday: Marlins RHP Severino Gonzalez at Atlanta Braves RHP R.A. Dickey, 1:05 p.m., Orlando.
▪ Sunday: Marlins LHP Wei-Yin Chen vs. Houston Astros RHP Mike Fiers, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.
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