Miami Marlins

Here’s why the Marlins think starting pitcher Jose Urena can thrive as their closer

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Urena delivers during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Monday, May 27, 2019, in Washington.
Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Urena delivers during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Monday, May 27, 2019, in Washington. AP

If the Miami Marlins find themselves in a position to end a 14-game road losing streak with a narrow lead late Sunday against the Washington Nationals, they’ll trust a mostly untested closer to get them to the finish line.

Jose Urena, who began the year as the Marlins’ Opening Day starter and has only one career save back in 2016, will “absolutely” be Miami’s closer for the series finale at Nationals Park should such a situation arise, Don Mattingly said, and the manager is confident the former starting pitcher will be able to handle such a burden.

Since the Marlins traded Sergio Romo to the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline, the closer spot has been a revolving door. There’s no clear-cut closer of the future on the roster and Ryne Stanek, given the bulk of the save situations in August, blew his third save of the month Friday. Urena has some of the attributes Mattingly looks for when evaluating a potential closer.

“I think he’s just aggressive,” the manager said. “I think Josy’s always aggressive, always on the attack, not really scared of any situation. You don’t see him out there being timid, so I think that inning is an inning that you want a guy on the attack, not afraid to throw it over, not worried about the outcome so much. It’s just a matter of he’s going to attack, he’s going to be aggressive, he’s going to be all out. It seems like the perfect inning for him.”

After Stanek blew a ninth-inning lead Friday in Washington, the pitcher lamented the no-out walk he issued to Trea Turner, which put the winning run on base and set up Anthony Rendon for a walk-off hit. In his nine innings since joining Miami last month, Stanek has as many walks — 10 — as he does strikeouts.

Urena, who hasn’t pitched since June because of a herniated disc in his lower back and came off the 60-day injured list Sunday, has only 23 walks in 74 2/3 innings this season. If he had pitched enough to qualify for leaderboards, the right-handed pitcher would rank among the top 25 in the Majors in walks per nine innings. A strike-throwing pitcher with a 95-mph fastball and a swing-and-miss slider is the profile for an MLB closer.

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Still, it’s impossible to know how a player will handle such a change in role until it actually happens. The Marlins (48-87) had Urena pitch back-to-back games with Triple A New Orleans on Tuesday and Wednesday, and, as of now, Mattingly thinks the righty will be able to pitch back-to-back games in the Major Leagues, too.

“We’ll see how he reacts. Honestly, I think that’s the one thing you don’t know,” Mattingly said. “He’s been a starter. He’s been used to the build-up and ramp-up between the starts, but he’s also been used to throwing 100 pitches, so if he goes out and throws 15, you don’t know how he’s going to feel the next day. But he’s a guy that’s always bounced back. Even after his starts, he seems to be pretty good the next day.”

Before Miami wrapped up its series with the Nationals (76-58) at 1:35 p.m., Mattingly tried to evaluate how Urena was embracing this new challenge. He laughed when it was posed that maybe Urena is excited about trying his hand as a closer, although it was just because it’s so hard to get a read on the stoic starter’s emotions.

On Friday, Urena rejoined the club ahead of his activation — he, relief pitcher Tayron Guerrero and infielder Miguel Rojas all came off the IL on Sunday when rosters expanded to 40 players — and simply said he is, “going to try to do [his] job.”

His even-keeled nature might suit him, too. If the 27-year-old has a long-term role with the organization it might have to be as a relief pitcher, which means dealing with adverse situations on a regular basis. September will be an audition and an evaluation, and it could begin Sunday.

“You don’t ever really get any excitement out of him,” Mattingly said. “I think he’s looking forward to it. I think he’s looking forward to getting back out on a Major League mound.”