Miami Marlins

It’s a ‘tough call’ to come as Marlins pin down bullpen options. Here are the contenders

Marlins manager Don Mattingly explains spring training lineups

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly explains how he decides his lineups for Spring Training games.
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Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly explains how he decides his lineups for Spring Training games.

Sooner or later, Marlins manager Don Mattingly will have a decision on his hand.

As he shapes out his 25-man roster for Opening Day, eight of those spots will be reserved for the Marlins’ bullpen.

How Mattingly comes to his decision is up in the air.

“I think that’s going to be a tough call for us as we get to that,” Mattingly said. “There’s pretty much eight spots out there, and it’s going to be tough getting down to eight. There’s going to be some guys who are disappointed on that side of it.”

As many as five spots already feel secure. Sergio Romo will be on the roster and is versatile enough to pitch in any inning.

Drew Steckenrider is seen as a candidate to close even though the Marlins are likely not going to have a traditional closer. Adam Conley, Tayron Guerrero and Riley Ferrell should be favorites to make the roster as well.

Conley, a leftie, and Guerrerro, a righty, are the two hardest throwers the Marlins have available who are ready to be in the big leagues. Ferrell, a Rule 5 draft pick, has been steady this spring, striking out five and giving up just two hits over 3 2/3 innings.

That leaves just three spots for the following six legitimate contenders:

Austin Brice: Brice, a righty who the Marlins drafted in 2010, traded away to Cincinnati for Dan Straily in 2017 and then claimed off waivers after the 2018 season, has impressed this spring (4 1/3 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 6 K). He relies heavily on a sinker that averages about 94 mph and a curveball that batters swung and missed on 34.7 percent of the time last season. He induces groundballs more than half the time when batters make contact.

Jeff Brigham: Brigham was a September callup last year who served as part of the Marlins’ six-man rotation over the final month. He has thrown four scoreless innings this spring, giving up just two hits. Brigham, 27, fits the role of a long reliever. Having a three-pitch mix (four-seam fastball, curveball and change-up) helps too.

Jarlin Garcia: Garcia, a 6-3 lefty with a three-pitch mix, was briefly used as a starter last year before transitioning to the bullpen. His fastball is generally around the 91-93 mph range, but he can throw both his slider and change-up for strikes. Garcia has experience going multiple innings and could potentially develop into a setup guy as well.

Elieser Hernandez: Like Garcia, Hernandez started on occasion early before moving to the bullpen. Command will be key for Hernandez, considering he is a righty whose fastball — which he threw almost two-thirds of the time last year — peaks in the low 90s and his slider and change-up are in the low 80s.

Tyler Kinley: Kinley is in an interesting spot. He’s been solid in spring (2 H, 1 ER, 5 Ks in 3 2/3 innings) after an iffy time in the big leagues as a September callup (6 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings). His fastball rests in the upper 90s and he throws his slider for strikes, but Triple-A seems to be his most likely starting point.

Jose Quijada: Quijada, the Marlins’ No. 28 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is one of two possible lefties to join Conley in the bullpen. He has touched 97 mph with his fastball and works his slider to both sides of the plate. Command is the big question. Even if he starts 2019 in Triple-A, Quijada will likely get a shot at some point this season.

Notables from Thursday’s game

Miguel Rojas and Garrett Cooper each recorded two hits in the Marlins’ 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros on Thursday. Dixon Machado drove in the Marlins’ lone run of the game, scoring Magneuris Sierra on an RBI single in the sixth.

Jose Urena’s final line in his third spring start: 4 hits, four runs (just one earned), two strikeouts and two walks in 2 2/3 innings. Four errors during his time on the mound extended innings. ... The five relievers who came out of the bullpen (R.J. Alvarez, Zac Gallen, Kyle Keller, Brian Moran and Tommy Eveld) combined to give up just three hits and three walks while striking out five.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.