Miami Marlins

Jose Urena wants to pitch again this year, but how will the Marlins use him if he returns?

Marlins pitcher José Ureña is in a position to be a leader this season

Miami Marlins pitcher José Ureña is upbeat about the start of training camp and wants to help the team bond.
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Miami Marlins pitcher José Ureña is upbeat about the start of training camp and wants to help the team bond.

Jose Urena took another positive step forward as he attempts to return to the Miami Marlins’ pitching staff this season.

Urena, the Marlins’ Opening Day starter for the past two years, threw 24 pitches in a live batting practice session on Tuesday before the Marlins opened a three-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s the first time he has thrown to hitters since being placed on the injured list on June 12 with a herniated disc in his lower back.

His likely next step is starting a rehab assignment with the goal of returning to the team before the season ends, although Urena said he doesn’t have a timeline for his return yet.

“I really want [to pitch again this season],” Urena said, “because I want to see how my back feels and to get a sense of what I need to do for next year. We have to test it.”

Exactly what Urena’s role would be if he returns is the big question. It would likely take anywhere from three to four rehab starts for him to be back to full strength to return as a starting pitcher. That’s about a month-long process. Considering there just under seven weeks left in the regular season, that would leave him with maybe three weeks of action at the most.

The Marlins’ other option is moving him to the bullpen, which is something Marlins manager Don Mattingly said has been discussed.

“I think the hardest thing is getting those starters built up to throw 90 pitches,” Mattingly said. “We’ve talked about different options with Jose, possibly out of the bullpen, but the main thing right now is getting him built up, get him strong and then we’ll make that decision.”

Would Urena consider moving out of the starting rotation if it meant playing again in 2019?

“We have to find out the best way because that was a serious injury,” Urena said. “We have to get it complete. It’s late in the season, so the best thing is safety and being careful.

“Whatever works. You have to take baby steps.”

Prior to the injury, Urena had a 4-7 record with a 4.70 ERA over 13 starts. Before his final start — a three-inning, six-run bombardment against the Atlanta Braves on June 7 — Urena threw at least six innings in nine consecutive starts, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished by a Marlins pitcher since Jose Fernandez in 2016. Eight of those nine outings — including the past five — were quality starts, defined as throwing at least six innings and giving up no more than three earned runs.

After two months of slow progress, he sees a chance to help out his team again.

“You know, that was pretty tough when you’re down,” Urena said. “You want to help your team, but there wasn’t anything I could do. You’re hurt, but you want to try to get it together.”

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More injury updates

Fellow starting pitcher Pablo Lopez threw another bullpen session on Tuesday, his second since his last rehab start. The Marlins have been cautious with Lopez, who went on the IL on June 19 with a right shoulder strain. He struggled in three rehab assignments with the Double A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, giving up a combined 12 earned runs in five innings. “We just want to get back to where he comes into games and competes,” Mattingly said. “It’s not about getting him through September or anything. It’s about when he walks back out that he has a chance to be himself.”

Shortstop Miguel Rojas (right hamstring strain) has resumed baseball activities. He fielded ground balls pregame on Tuesday but has not begun running yet.

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.