Miami Marlins

Nick Anderson was a fringe player to make the Marlins’ roster. Now, he’s setting records

Miami Marlins pitcher Nick Anderson (70) pitches against the New York Mets in the sixth inning of a baseball game at Marlins Park in Miami on Monday, April 1, 2019.
Miami Marlins pitcher Nick Anderson (70) pitches against the New York Mets in the sixth inning of a baseball game at Marlins Park in Miami on Monday, April 1, 2019.

At this time last month, Nick Anderson was considered a relative long shot to make the Marlins’ Opening Day roster. He was in a battle for one of the last few bullpen spots as spring training entered its final days. Starting the season in Triple A New Orleans could have very well been a feasible option.

But between a strong showing in Jupiter and a few roster moves leaning in his favor, Anderson found himself in Miami March 28 as the Marlins opened the year against the Colorado Rockies. He made his first relief appearance that day, retiring the lone batter he faced by forcing Ryan McMahon to ground out after two pitches.

“Just felt like the time was right,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.

It was just the beginning.

Three weeks and eight relief appearances later, Anderson already has his name etched in the Marlins’ record book even with the team dropping 13 of their past 15 games.

The 28-year-old rookie from Crosby, Minnesota, with a knack for finding the strike zone set the franchise record by striking out multiple batters in seven consecutive relief appearances. His 17 strikeouts heading into Friday’s series opener against the Washington Nationals — against 37 batters faced, no less — are also the most by a reliever who made his debut with the Marlins through his first nine innings.

“I don’t think I can really complain about much,” Anderson said. “Things have been going pretty well.”

It’s the culmination of a professional baseball journey seven years in the making.

After spending three years in the independent Frontier League following a decision not to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2012 MLB Draft, Anderson’s hometown Minnesota Twins purchased his contract. He quickly worked his way through their minor-league system. He was solid in Triple-A in 2018, striking out 88 batters over 60 innings with four saves and a 3.30 ERA.

As the season came to an end and the Marlins prepared for the Rule 5 draft that December, Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said the organization attempted to identify teams that would have difficult roster decisions to make. The Twins jumped out.

On Nov. 20, the trade finalized. Anderson to Miami. Infield prospect Brian Schales to Minnesota.

“Luckily, they felt like there was a match,” Hill said. “... We were extremely excited because we felt like, from our metrics, we were bringing in a pitcher who we felt could be an effective major league reliever.”

That’s been accurate to this point.

Heading into Friday, Anderson’s 17.65 strikeouts-per-nine-inning lead the majors among players with at least five appearances.

“It’s a small sample size to this point, but we like his weapons,” Hill said. “We like how he attacks hitters.”

With just a two-pitch arsenal — a four-seam fastball that averages about 95.5 mph and a low-to-mid-80’s curveball — Anderson relies more on location and execution than pure stuff. He challenges batters to go after him and forces them to swing.

So far this year, Anderson has been the winner more often than not.

“They know it’s going to be around the plate somewhere,” Anderson said. “They just don’t know where or what it’s going to be.”

That’s the mentality the Marlins need from a quality reliever. Trust your stuff, execute and move on.

And, as time passes, it could lend to Anderson moving on from the sixth inning and occasional setup role to possibly becoming an option to close.

“Anything can happen,” Mattingly said, “but I think right now it’s more of a work in progress.”

It has been a strong start, one Anderson hopes continues even though he knows there will be rough patches as the season continues.

“It feels great,” Anderson said, “but with that being said, nobody’s invincible or anything like that. Everybody goes through failure at some point. Things have been going well for me now and I’m just trying to ride the wave as long as I can.”

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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.