A dab of pine tar turned into a defining moment for David Phelps.
It was the start of the 2014 season. Phelps was a late-inning setup reliever for the New York Yankees. He recorded five holds and a save in six consecutive outings out of the bullpen for the Bronx Bombers.
And then came the pine tar.
Yankees starter Michael Pineda was slapped with a 10-game suspension when he was caught doctoring the ball with the sticky substance. The Yankees made Phelps a starter in his absence.
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“I stepped into the rotation,” Phelps said. “I didn’t come out after that.”
His short-relief days ended.
The Marlins, in desperate need of late-inning help after Carter Capps underwent Tommy John surgery and Mike Dunn started the year on the disabled list with a forearm strain, are turning to Phelps to fill the pressing need.
Phelps, whom the Marlins acquired with Martin Prado in a trade with the Yankees before the 2015 season, entered in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Mets, delivered two scoreless innings and earned the victory.
Manager Don Mattingly said he intends to keep Phelps in that role, yet another one for the versatile 29-year-old right-hander out of Notre Dame. Phelps has started and been used in long relief for the Marlins.
When a rain delay brought an abrupt end to Adam Conley’s start after one inning on April 7 in Washington, Mattingly turned to Phelps, who turned in four scoreless innings in long relief, picking up the win in the process.
Two of the Marlins’ three wins belong to Phelps.
“I just want to pitch in whatever role is going to help our team win games,” Phelps said. “I really don’t have a preference.”
But even Phelps acknowledged — as every pitcher does — that it’s easier to prepare having a defined role.
“At the end of the day, whether you’re starting or throwing out of the bullpen, the more you know the easier it is to prepare for,” said Phelps, who has just about the same number of starts in the majors (59) as he has appearances out of the bullpen (54).
With Capps done for the season and Dunn’s return up in the air, the Marlins are going to need someone to help in the sixth and seventh innings. Bryan Morris is one option. Craig Breslow gives them a left-handed presence.
The Marlins could reach into the minors at some point and call up Kyle Barraclough, a hard thrower who pitched well last season after coming to Miami in a trade deadline deal with St. Louis for Steve Cishek.
Barraclough struggled with his control in spring training, though, and landed in Triple A New Orleans to start the season.
The rest of the bullpen, at the moment, is filled with inning-eating long relievers: Edwin Jackson, Chris Narveson and Dustin McGowan. None of them is a true short-inning specialist.
“One of the biggest things we have going for us right now is that when the [phone] rings, we’re ready to go, whether it’s the second inning, or eighth, or the ninth,” Phelps said.
“That’s one of the things we’ve kind of preached to each other, because we’re still trying to find our identity as a bullpen right now.”
marlins claim lefty
The Marlins claimed left-handed pitcher Eric Jokisch off waivers from the Chicago Cubs and assigned him to New Orleans.
Jokisch, 26, appeared in four games (including one start) for the Cubs in 2014, posting a 1.88 ERA without a decision.
To make room for Jokisch on their 40-man roster, the Marlins designated right-handed pitcher Scott McGough for assignment.
▪ Friday: Marlins LHP Wei-Yin Chen (0-0, 9.00 ERA) vs. Atlanta Braves RHP Williams Perez (0-0, 7.71), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Saturday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (0-1, 2.84) vs. Braves RHP Bud Norris (0-2, 6.00), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.