Tyler Kinley was ready for the opportunity when the Minnesota Twins finally gave him a chance to get to the Majors. As much as the Plantation native would have liked to debut with the hometown Miami Marlins, Kinley’s selection in the Rule 5 draft ahead of the 2018 season meant his first, long-awaited taste of MLB would be with the Twins.
It lasted all of four outings. Kinley gave up three runs in his third appearance, five in his fourth and then he was gone, back to the Minors, which meant back to the Marlins organization.
“In the beginning I think I was so eager to be a good teammate, to be whatever pitcher they needed to make that team and be in whatever role they needed, I think I lost a little bit of my identity by trying to do too much,” Kinley said. “I kind of lost what I do well.”
Since he was returned to Miami early in the 2018 season, Kinley has turned a corner. He was able to reset with a few months with Triple A New Orleans before the Marlins finally gave him another shot when rosters expanded in the final month of the 2018 season. Aside from one dud performance against the Washington Nationals in 2018, Kinley has been a lockdown option in the middle innings.
Kinley fired two more scoreless frames for Miami (4-14) in its 4-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, which likely leaves him unavailable for the series finale against the Cubs (7-9) on Wednesday at Marlins Park and lowered his early-season ERA to 0.79 in 11 1/3 innings across nine appearances. The relief pitcher has given up just six hits, one run and six walk with 11 strikeouts. The strength of the Marlins’ bullpen is its depth and Kinley is a key piece — he simultaneously leads the active roster in bullpen innings pitched and ranks second in bullpen ERA, while sitting third among relievers average leverage index.
Kinley, 28, learned from his time in Minnesota what to avoid as a pitcher. His brief stint with the Twins, Kinley said, was derailed because he overthought too much, afraid to challenge hitters with his fastball and tentative to throw his slider at all. This year, Kinley throws his slider 56.4 percent of the time. Last year, he used it at just a 38.1-percent rate.
“I didn’t trust my heater as much. I wasn’t spinning my slider with as much confidence as I normally do,” Kinley said. “It took me struggling to learn that I am good enough and my stuff is good enough to just use it in the way I need to.”
From the moment he came back to Miami, Kinley started to find success. The right-handed pitcher threw 40 innings for the New Orleans Baby Cakes with a 2.92 ERA to earn the late-season call-up to the Marlins. Kinley, who went to Nova High School in Davie and played at Division II Barry University in Miami Shores, has pitched 18 times since then and only allowed a run in just three of those appearances.
“Obviously, I thought I had the talent to be there, but I wanted to show them all the other stuff that, He gets it. He’s not just a rookie. He’s mature,” Kinley said. “I just lost my identity in attacking guys the way I want to attack guys.”
His new mind set fits the identity Sergio Romo envisions for the Marlins’ young bullpen. The 36-year-old pitcher is the de facto leader of the bullpen as a three-time World Series champion and former All-Star. From up close, the right-handed pitcher has seen the sheer depth of lively arms Miami has stockpiled for its bullpen.
Just about everyone in the bullpen has the swing-and-miss ability teams look for and Kinley is no exception. All it took was failure to be reminded he does.
“I do see this team coming in and just being a powerhouse where we’re legitimately the most aggressive, almost to where it’s you know exactly what you’re going to get, but it’s just too much to handle,” Romo said of the bullpen earlier this month. “I really see the potential with these young guys.”