Marlins pitcher José Ureña is in a position to be a leader this season
Jose Urena knows the sort of pitcher he needs to be. The starting pitcher said Tuesday, even after suffering his third loss of the season, he feels like he’s getting better, settling into his second season as the ace of the Miami Marlins.
Urena’s is a sinkerballer, so he knows he needs to pitch to contact. He’s definitely doing it this season and he did it again against the Cincinnati Reds.
“That is my biggest thing,” Urena said. “I try to take advantage of that. I try to get early outs.”
After giving up eight hits and four earned runs in five innings for the Marlins (3-8) in their 14-0 loss to the Reds (2-8) on Tuesday, Urena’s issues are becoming more readily apparent.
The starting pitcher, never a big strikeout pitcher, is missing fewer bats than he ever has and getting hit harder than ever. Opponents are averaging a 94.8-mph exit velocity against Urena, which places him in the bottom 5 percent of the league, and he’s getting swinging strikes on just 9.8 percent of his sliders, down from 15.7 percent on his go-to pitch in 2018.
This is all despite his average velocity being down just about 1 mph — about standard for early in the season — and the spin rate on his sinker virtually identical to last year. Right now, his issues all stem from command and his current lack of it.
“His stuff’s going to be good, but when you get yourself in bad counts and you really can’t get the ball where you want to, that’s the thing you worry about,” manager Don Mattingly said. “Josy’s never really been a guy that’s a big swing-and-miss guy.”
Entering Tuesday, most of Urena’s peripheral numbers were in line with last season. His foul ball strike percentage — a measure of the percentage of strikes that result from foul balls — was less than a point off from 2018 and his contact percentage was barely more than a point off. He actually is throwing a higher percentage of first-pitch strikes, getting into fewer 3-0 counts and getting into more 0-2 counts.
The biggest difference, however, is batters are being more aggressive. His strike looking percentage was down more than five points entering the three-game series in Cincinnati, which continues at 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park.
The result of all this has made it tougher to pick his spots in the bottom of the zone like he did last season, when he posted a 3.98 ERA. He’s really struggling to paint the bottom corners of the zone — just 3 percent of pitches are in the bottom corner parts of the strike zone compared to 11 percent last season. His ground ball rate is down more than 8 percent and batters are topping his pitches almost 10 percent less.
Part of this is by design.
Urena is trying to use more of the zone, which Miami hopes will help him long term. He just needs to hit his spots better.
“I think it’s more command than anything else,” Urena said. “He’s trying to go up some, which is good, which I think opens the plate up for him. I think in general it’s just the command, being able to get himself in good counts and stay ahead where they’ve got to be a little more defensive I think is the key for him.”