Austin Brice has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the Miami Marlins’ entire roster this season. The relief pitcher has already set a new single-season career high in innings pitched and currently boasts a 1.88 ERA. Although Sergio Romo has gobbled up nearly all the saves, Brice has, by most other metrics, been the Marlins’ most effective reliever.
His breakthrough season has finally hit a bump. The right-handed pitcher is heading to the 10-day injured list with a right forearm flexor strain, retroactive to Sunday, and his success throughout 2019 made it a difficult decision to make.
“It was tough to make the call, to be like, Hey, I can’t throw anymore, especially when I was throwing well with it,” Brice said. “It was just getting to a point where it was starting to bother me during the game and the adrenaline wasn’t really taking it over, so I had to do something. I didn’t want to just go out there and keep beating a dead horse, so to speak.”
It’s a major blow for Miami’s bullpen, which has been among the worst in MLB this season even with Brice’s success in a variety of roles. The Marlins (34-47) take a 4.90 bullpen ERA into Tuesday, when they kick off a three-game series at 7:10 p.m. against the San Diego Padres in Miami, which gives them the eighth worst mark in the Majors. Brice, whose 38 1/3 innings are tied for the team lead, is one of only two pitchers currently in the bullpen with an ERA better than 4.00.
The right-handed pitcher, however, is optimistic the strain won’t keep him off the field for long. The injury clearly wasn’t hampering Brice too badly — in 15 appearances since the start of June, Brice has pitched 17 innings and allowed just six hits, four walks and one earned run while striking out 18 batters — which has him hopeful he won’t be sidelined much longer than the mandatory 10 days.
Brice described the injury as discomfort rather than pain and he said an MRI taken on his right forearm showed now structural damage. The current prescription is just a bit of rest and Brice hopes he’ll resume pitching around the time the team returns from the six-game road trip which follows the series against the Padres (45-48) at Marlins Park. Brice, who never posted an ERA better than 4.96 in parts of three seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, wants to get on with his breakout season, which has seen him allow 1.070 walks plus hits per inning pitched with 38 strikeouts.
“I think I’ll be able to get throwing pretty quick,” Brice said, “so I don’t think it’s going to be anything too crazy.”
In Brice’s place, Miami at least is getting back another talented bullpen fixture. Relief pitcher Tayron Guerrero, who had been on the IL since late June with a blister on his right middle finger, is back and available for the Marlins on Tuesday. While Guerrero has been one of the most inconsistent members of Miami’s bullpen, he’s averaging more than a strikeout per inning with a 4.35 ERA.
Guerrero’s return isn’t the only bit of good news for the Marlins’ injury-riddled pitching staff. Relief pitcher Drew Steckenrider and starting pitcher Pablo Lopez both threw bullpen sessions Tuesday and are inching closer to returns.
While Lopez’s role as a starter means he still has a bit longer of a rehab journey ahead of him, Don Mattingly was encouraged by what he saw Tuesday from Lopez, who had been one of Miami’s most reliable starters before heading to the IL in June with a shoulder strain.
“Seeing the movement, see if he was hitting his spots, he looked good,” the manager said of Lopez, who threw 20 pitches in the session. “He was feeling good, so he’ll just continue with his progression. Hopefully no setbacks and we’ll get him ready to pitch again.”
Steckenrider’s bullpen session lasted 15 pitches, consisting entirely of fastballs. The progress, even if there are still a few more steps before a potential return, is massively encouraging for the reliever, who had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and met with renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews after going on the 60-day IL with a right flexor strain in May.
“I felt good, I felt healthy,” Steckenrider said. “I just wanted to make sure everything was all good with my arm and it was after that, so I’m excited for the next step.”
Steckenrider, who was viewed as a potential closer candidate before a disappointing start to the season, still needs to throw breaking balls off the mound before he heads up to Jupiter to start facing live hitting.
“I’m so excited to get back. I’ve been itching,” the righty said. “It’s something that you don’t want to ever have to go through, being on the DL, but I’ve gone through it before, so I kind of knew what to expect. As I started to kind of go down those low roads, I was able to get myself out of it a little bit easier than I was previously with the TJ surgery.”