Come the start off the season, Nick Wittgren and Brian Ellington could be a couple of Baby Cakes, the new nickname of the Marlins’ Triple A team in New Orleans.
Or they could be Marlins.
This much is certain: in Wittgren and Ellington, the Marlins know they possess a pair of capable relievers who could help in a pinch if one of the team’s mainstays in the bullpen goes down.
And with it looking more and more likely that left-handed long man Jeff Locke will start the season on the disabled list, the chances that either Ellington or Wittgren makes the Opening Day roster are improving.
“They’re definitely candidates,” said manager Don Mattingly.
The bullpen is the one area — perhaps the only area — where the Marlins feel they have minor-league depth, something that can’t be said for their position players or starting pitchers.
If a Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon or any of the others in the lineup go out with injuries, the Marlins could be in some trouble. They don’t have anyone in the farm system they can count on to step in and contribute.
The same goes for their starters.
But the bullpen is another story, their one area of strength.
“I think that’s one area we feel good about,” Mattingly said.
While neither Wittgren nor Ellington have made an Opening Day roster in the majors, both bring big-league experience.
Wittgren made 48 appearances out of the Marlins’ bullpen in 2016, going 4-3 with a 3.14 ERA. Ellington has a bit more experience, appearing in 55 games over the past two seasons and going 6-3 with a 2.64 ERA.
More significantly, each has shown they can remain on the mound for more than an inning at a time, a crucial element in the Marlins’ new pitching blueprint.
The Marlins intend to go with an eight-man bullpen, with three of those relievers serving in long — or “bridge” roles — between the starters and their late-inning hurlers.
Wittgren’s first big-league win came in a three-inning relief outing against the Pirates last season. Ellington has gone multiple innings on several occasions.
“Last year I went multiples a couple of times,” Wittgren said. “My arm bounced back great last year after multiples.”
Obviously, both would prefer to start the season in the majors but realize their first plane ticket could send them to New Orleans.
“If you go down to Triple A, you can’t be mad about it,” Wittgren said. “You pitch well and just wait for your time. That’s the way I look at it.”
Ellington said he is trying not to think where he’ll start the season.
“You know, I spent some time last spring training worrying about that, and thinking about it,” Ellington said. “But it’s really out of my control. If they see fit that I’m better left in Triple A, then I can’t do anything about it. It stinks. It’s something I don’t want to happen. But it’s part of the game.”
Whether or not they don’t crack the final 25-man roster, it’s all but certain they’ll pitch at some point this season for the Marlins. Since both still have options remaining, the Marlins can demote and promote them as often as they wish.
“Our bullpen’s great, everybody in there from top to bottom,” Ellington said. “In my mind, I’m still part of this team. I think I can help them from day one. But if they need help down the road, I’ll be ready.”
TEBOW GETS HIT
Tim Tebow got his first hit for the New York Mets.
The former NFL quarterback singled Monday in an exhibition game against Marlins left-hander Kyle Lobstein.
Tebow was hitless in his first eight at-bats in spring training before his opposite-field single on a 2-2 pitch leading off the bottom of the fifth inning. He was then erased on a double-play grounder.
Playing left field, the former Heisman Trophy winner made a head-first diving catch in the second inning to rob Justin Bour of a hit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.