Adam Conley threw his first pitch in the majors in over two months earlier this week.
It didn’t go as planned.
“It’s funny, I thought in the back of my head, ‘What if I throw this halfway up the backstop?’ ” Conley said. “What I did wasn’t too far off that. … I kind of laughed at it myself.”
The low fastball from an anxious Conley bounced in the dirt and past catcher J.T. Realmuto. His next pitch was right down the middle for a strike.
Once he settled in, Conley started to look a little more like the pitcher the Marlins thought had the potential to become a mainstay in their rotation rather than the one who struggled in April and was sent to the minors, where he remained until this past Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Conley pitched six innings and allowed two runs, taking a no-decision against the Phillies in his first major-league start since being demoted to the minors on May 9 following a dismal start to the season.
“He worked quickly [on the mound],” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “The body language was aggressive. It’s really what you ask.”
Conley started 25 games in the Marlins’ rotation last season, going 8-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 133 1/3 innings in a season that was cut short in mid-August after he injured the middle finger on his pitching hand. At one point Conley set the club record for consecutive scoreless innings by a starter ( 11 1/3), and he’s come close on three occasions in his brief career to pitching a no-hitter.
Some felt the 27-year-old lefty from Redmond, Washington, had the most upside among the Marlins’ returning starters. But Conley struggled this spring, causing some concern.
He still won the fifth spot in the rotation but went 2-3 with a 7.53 ERA in six starts, culminating with a poor outing in St. Louis (seven runs allowed in 3 2/3 innings) that led to his demotion. Conley’s first nine starts at Triple A New Orleans weren’t much better, as he went 1-3 with a 6.70 ERA.
“The most frustrating thing was the way I was pitching, because I knew what I was capable of doing,” Conley said. “There wasn’t a single game [early in the season] I can think of where I left the mound and really felt like myself, even when the results were good.”
Conley said he’s been working on undoing some of the things he trained himself to do since spring training that he felt led to his poor pitching. One of them is a mechanical adjustment that he feels corrects a flaw in his delivery that was making it “too passive.”
“The biggest thing mechanically was that my foot was hitting the ground so early and so far across my body that I was fighting my lower half the whole way,” Conley said. “When you do something wrong for a couple of months you get to a point where your body just knows only one way to do it.”
Conley and his wife, Kendall, both devout Christians, live in Stuart with their two young daughters, Emilia and Ella Mae. Conley said his faith helped him persevere.
Even before his return to the majors, Conley began to show consistency on the mound once July began.
Conley allowed two runs or less and pitched six or more innings in two of his last three starts in New Orleans.
“I love the direction I’m headed,” Conley said. “I still have a lot of work to do, but there have been benefits to the work I’ve been doing.
“If this season has taught me anything, it’s just to focus on the work I’m doing and be myself and pitch that way,” Conley said.
▪ Friday: Marlins RHP Jose Ureña (7-4, 3.93 ERA) vs. Cincinnati Reds RHP Homer Bailey (2-3, 10.13), 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
▪ Saturday: Marlins LHP Chris O’Grady (1-1, 5.23 ERA) vs. Reds (TBA), 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.