Miami Marlins

Andrew McKirahan might have staying power in Marlins bullpen

Andrew McKirahan is photographed on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.
Andrew McKirahan is photographed on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. AP

Dan Uggla was one. So was Matt Mantei.

Over the years, the Marlins have uncovered a couple of gems in the December garage sale that is the Rule 5 Draft.

And while the number of discards has outnumbered the number of discoveries they’ve plucked out of the Rule 5, the Marlins are hoping they have unearthed another keeper.

Their latest experiment is reliever Andrew McKirahan.

The 25-year-old southpaw was taken by the Marlins in December’s Rule 5 Draft, which comes with special rules.

Only designated players not protected on a team’s 40-man roster can be chosen. Those that are selected must then remain on the acquiring team’s 25-man roster throughout the entire season or be returned to the original club, along with $50,000.

The Marlins believe McKirahan could be one of those that sticks.

“He’s opened eyes,” Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said.

McKirahan was a 21st-round draft pick by the Chicago Cubs out of the University of Texas and has never pitched above Double A, where he spent half of last season.

What attracted the Marlins was his exceptional ratio of 3.65 strikeouts per every walk over the course of his four minor-league seasons.

“He’s done exactly what our reports said he would do,” Jennings said. “He’s shown no intimidation. The slider is there. He’s shown fastball range between 90 and 94.”

But McKirahan has his work cut out for him in order to make the team.

For one thing, he must prove during what time remains in spring training that he can handle big-league hitters, something he has never had to do.

For another — and this might be the toughest challenge of all — he must win a bullpen spot in a crowded field of contenders.

One factor in his favor: He’s left-handed, and the only lefty in the bullpen is Mike Dunn. That is, unless the Marlins also decide to put Brad Hand there. Hand is out of minor-league options, which makes the decision even tougher for Miami.

“There’s a lot of competition for those spots,” manager Mike Redmond said. “We’ve got to feel comfortable that this guy can pitch and help us right now. We’ll have a long conversation about that one.”

It’s a no-lose situation for McKirahan. Either he wins his first big-league roster spot or the Marlins will return him to the Cubs’ farm system, where he will continue to work his way up the ladder.

“I’m not even looking at going back,” McKirahan said. “Obviously, it’s an option. But it’s not something I think about.”

McKirahan might be further along now if not for an arm injury in 2012 that resulted in Tommy John surgery. That cost him a year of minor-league ball.

But the Marlins’ minor-league scouts obviously liked enough of the pitcher to make a push for him in the Rule 5 Draft.

“You’ve got one left-hander in Dunn,” Jennings said. “You’d like to have a second left-hander. But it’s got to be earned. This team is ready to win now, so we have to feel that he helps us win now.”

McKirahan has showed signs this spring that he might belong.

After giving up a leadoff walk and double against the Mets in a game last week, he retired the next three batters without allowing a run to score.

“Things like that, when he shows you he can pitch out of traffic and show damage control, that’s a step in the right direction in terms of winning the team’s approval,” Jennings said. “He’s going to get every opportunity to earn his way.”

more cuts made

The Marlins on Sunday whittled seven more players from their spring roster. Most notable of those was one of their top pitching prospects, Jose Urena, who was optioned to Triple A New Orleans.

“He’s real close to [being big-league ready],” Redmond said. “I was really impressed with Urena and his stuff. He’s got a big-league fastball. And he’s a great competitor.”

The Marlins optioned right-handed pitcher Kendry Flores to Double A Jacksonville. Infielder Avery Romero, right-handed pitcher Nick Wittgren, and outfielders Austin Wates and Kenny Wilson were re-assigned to minor-league camp.

The Marlins now have 53 players remaining in major-league camp.

▪ Dan Haren delivered four shutout innings and Giancarlo Stanton drove in a pair of runs with a sacrifice fly and a single as the Marlins defeated the Detroit Tigers 4-2 on Sunday. Marcell Ozuna added a solo home run for the Marlins.

J.D. Martinez of Flanagan High School (Pembroke Pines) hit a two-run homer to account for all of Detroit’s runs.

▪ There were four former Marlins managers on hand for Sunday’s game in Jupiter: Jim Leyland, Ozzie Guillen, Jack McKeon and Tony Perez.

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