Jose Urena is pitching once every five games on average this season.
But he’s not in the Marlins’ starting rotation.
When Urena has been called to the mound, it’s usually been for damage control.
Urena, a 25-year old Dominican right-hander, has struggled with consistency as both a starter and reliever throughout his two-plus seasons in the majors.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly thinks Urena could still eventually become a reliable starter if he can develop his breaking ball and work hitters inside more effectively.
With the Marlins carrying eight relievers so far, Urena has been limited to only four appearances over the season’s first 21 games. He’s pitched 12 1/3 innings and has compiled a 2.92 ERA.
As a long reliever, Urena’s appearances have served as a means of conserving the team’s bullpen with fresh arms needed to fight another day.
Urena pitched 4 1/3 innings and threw 86 pitches in Friday night’s 12-2 loss to the Pirates. He entered the game for starter Adam Conley, who had just given up eight of the nine runs he’d be charged with on the stat sheet in the second inning of the worst start of his career.
More importantly, Urena’s outing kept what could have been a taxing night for the bullpen less exhausting as the Marlins only used three more relievers over the final three innings.
"I gave him a hug both times," said reliever David Phelps referring to the last two times Urena pitched.
Phelps, who has been a starter and a reliever for both the Yankees and Marlins during his career, appreciated the difficulty of entering a game in a position where the most important thing is to eat up innings with the team facing a large deficit early.
Phelps said: "People want to talk about bullpen roles and say some are more important than others but if you think about that last night or recently in Seattle, what he did kept the rest of us fresh and we could end up winning three or four games after because of it."
The Marlins used all eight of their relievers in a 16-inning loss to the Mets on April 13 including Urena, who pitched three of those. The Marlins were forced to send down their only reliever at the time with minor-league options, Nick Wittgren, in order to have depth for the next couple of games.
The Marlins could have found themselves in another bind Friday.
Urena gave up 12 hits overall, a club record for a Marlins reliever, but limited the damage to only two additional runs with help from his infield that turned three double plays.
Urena had not pitched for 11 days since an outing in Seattle in which he finished off the final four innings, allowing only one run after the Marlins gave up five runs over the first four.
"That was a tough situation, but even in the bullpen you have to be ready because something can happen," Urena said. "When I get out there, I try to go as deep as I can to support my team."
Brad Ziegler (0.82 ERA in 11 appearances) has been one of the best in baseball at inducing hitters to keep the ball on the ground, entering Saturday’s game ranked third in the majors in ground ball percentage at 73.3. He also came in ranked seventh in the NL in getting hitters to chase 40 percent of his pitches outside the zone.
Sunday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (1-1, 5.14 ERA) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Chad Kuhl (1-2, 6.63), 1:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
Monday: Marlins LHP Wei-Yin Chen (2-1, 4.71) vs. Tampa Bay Rays TBA, 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.