It could be a long final month for the Marlins.
On Sunday, they sent out Jeff Brigham to face the Toronto Blue Jays in his big-league debut. It didn’t go so well. Brigham struggled to get through three innings before coming out in a 6-1 loss.
But this is September, after all, when teams are permitted to expand their rosters and when those hopelessly out of it -- such as the Marlins --- can can start offering a bit of playing time to prospects being considered for the future.
Brigham fits that profile. He has pitched well in the minors. He could be a rotation piece down the road. Or not.
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But Sunday’s otherwise meaningless contest between two non-contending clubs gave the Marlins a chance to experiment and evaluate in a sort of glorified version of spring training. It was why Chad Wallach was behind the plate and Bryan Holaday wasn’t. It was why Rule 5 pitcher Brett Graves took over for Brigham and another September call-up, Nick Wittgren, was next to the mound.
Manager Don Mattingly said before Sunday’s game to expect more of the same the rest of the way, with one notable exception.
When the Marlins face contending teams, he will put out his best lineup and best pitchers.
The only problem with that is the Philadelphia Phillies are the only opponent left on the schedule that fits that definition. Of the 25 games left in the season for the Marlins, six will come against the Phillies, who began the day Sunday three games behind Atlanta in the National League East race. The Phillies open a three-game set Monday in Miami.
“I always felt like you owe it to the rest of the league — the Braves, whoever else is in the playoff hunt — to play your best club,” Mattingly said.
That’s one of the reasons Mattingly said he had Brigham go on Sunday against the Blue Jays, who are out of the race, while pushing Jose Urena — “arguably our best guy” — back one day to face the Phillies on Monday.
“I think you throw the lineup out there you think is best,” Mattingly said of upcoming games against Philadelphia.
The Marlins are expected to call up three or four more players after the minor-league season ends Monday, which will create a crowded clubhouse, dugout and bullpen.
The known call-ups will include pitchers Elieser Hernandez and Jarlin Garcia.
Mattingly sees the expanded roster in September as providing a valuable learning experience for players receiving their first taste of the majors. Mattingly would know. He was a September call-up for the Yankees in 1982 and received 12 at bats.
“I didn’t play much, but I learned a lot,” Mattingly said. “I was from a small (Indiana) town, pulled into New York City scared to death of everything but the field. How do I get around? Where do I stay? It’s such a shock and I think it’s really important to give them a taste. It gives you experience just knowing what the routine is.”
Mattingly didn’t exactly set the Bronx on fire. He had only a pair of singles for those 12 at bats.
Perhaps Brigham can take some solace in that. Brigham threw 82 pitches in his three-inning debut, walked four, hit a batter, and received two separate mound visits from pitching coach Juan Nieves to help settle his nerves. Mattingly spoke after the game with president of baseball operations Michael Hill, who told him Brigham didn’t look at all like the same pitcher who had success this season in the minors.
“It’s not what he had seen in the minor leagues,” Mattingly said. “And talking with Chad, he had never seen him all over the place like that. Hopefully the next one and the ones after are more like himself.”
Said Brigham: “It was a big deal for me and definitely a learning experience.”
Maybe the worst is now behind him and Brigham can show the Marlins he is a better pitcher than the one who labored Sunday, the one who perhaps tried a little too hard and paid the price.
For teams like the Marlins and players like Brigham, that’s what September is all about.
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