With spring training about to enter its second-to-last week, the Marlins are getting closer to settling who will earn the final spots in their pitching rotation.
Whether David Phelps ends up being one of them or is moved in some time after the season begins, as he was last year, his experience in both roles could prove valuable.
“David is a guy that can swing back and forth for you and do both [pitching roles],” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He showed flashes in both places he’s pitched that he can throw the ball really well.”
Although righty Jarred Cosart and lefty Adam Conley, who struck out all six batters he faced Saturday in a rain-shortened, two-inning start against the Tigers, appear to be the favorites to lock down rotation spots, Phelps’ experience could make him the top alternative option if the Marlins find themselves in a similar predicament this season.
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Phelps, 29, pitched 112 innings and made 23 appearances (19 starts), going 4-8 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.357 WHIP before a stress fracture in his right radius ended his season prematurely following a start Aug. 16 in St. Louis.
The Marlins, who raised his salary to $2.5 million from $1.4 million for this season, have not put Phelps out to pitch in live-game action much this spring. He has made only one appearance in a Grapefruit League game, pitching two scoreless innings and allowing two hits while striking out one in that outing.
“His biggest issue has been health,” Mattingly said. “I’m not sure whether the starts take their toll or the innings, but he’s a guy that’s shown he’s capable in either role.”
Phelps, who started in a minor-league game last Monday on one of the back fields, will make his first start of this spring in a major-league game Sunday against the Cardinals.
“I haven’t had any setbacks whatsoever in the offseason and been feeling great,” Phelps said. “The treatment was pretty much just to rest and stay conservative in the offseason and follow a throwing program.”
Phelps opened last season — his first with the Marlins — pitching out of the bullpen before he was moved into the rotation in mid-April following an injury to then-Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez.
Phelps put together solid outings in his first six starts, allowing two earned runs or less in each of them and going at least six innings in five of those starts.
Those numbers got a little less consistent as the season went on.
Phelps allowed three earned runs or less in seven of his next 12 starts, which included two rough outings where he gave up a combined 16 runs in six innings — the latter of which came in his penultimate start August 5 against the Mets (seven earned runs allowed in 4 1/3 innings).
Phelps said as the injury worsened, it contributed to his decline in performance.
“I got to that point in St. Louis where I just couldn’t go anymore,” Phelps said. “It’s frustrating because I looked at my numbers and if you take away about two starts I had a pretty good year. Other than that, I gave my team a chance to win every time out which is what you want out of a starter.”
Phelps said his forearm has felt much better in the offseason and has come into camp as one of a half-dozen candidates vying for one of the openings on the back end of the Marlins’ rotation.
Should he return to a starting role at some point, durability is something Phelps is working on, which could in turn improve his consistency.
Phelps pitched three seasons with the Yankees prior to being traded to the Marlins following the 2014 season.
Phelps pitched in several clutch games during his time in New York, and went 15-14 with a 4.21 ERA, making 40 starts and another 47 relief appearances.
The big-game experience of pitching in the American League East during the Yankees’ late-season stretches those seasons is something that could give Phelps an edge should the Marlins find themselves in contention late in this season.
“It gives me confidence I can do both,” Phelps said. “I was a starter throughout my minor league career and when I broke in I was put in the bullpen. Having success out there in that role gave me the confidence I could do both. Wherever I end up pitching, when they call my name, I’m going to go out there and give you all I got.”
▪ Sunday: Marlins RHP David Phelps vs. Cardinals RHP Mike Leake, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.
▪ Monday: Marlins RHP Jarred Cosart vs. RHP Jacob deGrom, 1:10 p.m., Port St. Lucie.