The Marlins have until noon Sunday, the day before Opening Day, to submit their 25-man roster to league offices. But in making a series of cuts on Tuesday, it could be nothing more than a formality.
While a couple of decisions remain, it appears all but certain reliever Nick Wittgren will start the season in the Marlins’ bullpen. And outfielder Tyler Moore appears to have the inside track on the final bench spot.
Manager Don Mattingly also signaled that Adam Conley will get the nod over Jose Urena as the fifth starter in the Marlins rotation despite struggling this spring with diminished fastball velocity and subpar results.
“I think we’re pretty much there with what we’re going to do,” Mattingly said. “We’re getting right down to it.”
The roster gained definition Tuesday when the Marlins optioned four players to Triple A New Orleans: catcher Tomas Telis, right-handed reliever Brian Ellington, and left-handed pitchers Justin Nicolino and Hunter Cervenka.
That left Wittgren as the last pitcher standing in the bullpen mix.
It also removed some of the uncertainty involving the starting rotation, as Nicolino was under consideration for the fifth spot. With Nicolino no longer in the equation, that role will likely fall to Conley.
“His spring hasn’t been great. We know that,” Mattingly said of Conley. “But his body of work has been pretty good. We think that buys him an opportunity.”
Urena would likely join Wittgren and Dustin McGowan in the bullpen as long relievers, at least until Jeff Locke returns from the disabled list, either in late April or early May, from a biceps strain.
Mattingly said the decision to send Nicolino to the minors was difficult.]
“That was probably our toughest decision,” Mattingly said. “He pitched really well in spring. Coming into camp, I kind of look at him as an outside chance, and he’s really opened a lot of eyes.”
In the end, though, the Marlins felt it was better for Nicolino to continue getting his starts in the minors rather than having him work out of their bullpen in long relief. If a Marlins starter goes down with an injury, Nicolino could be called up to step in immediately.
While 33 players remain on the team’s spring roster, three (Locke, third baseman Martin Prado and pitcher Odrismar Despaigne) are expected to start the season on the disabled list.
Two others are non-roster catchers, Ramon Cabrera and Carlos Paulino. They, along with non-roster infielder Ryan Jackson, aren’t expected to make the team.
That leaves only Moore, outfielder Matt den Dekker and Brandon Barnes vying for one bench spot. Moore might have the advantage, as he has played some first base in the majors while Den Dekker and Barnes have been used strictly as outfielders.
The downside for Moore is that he has been a poor pinch-hitter, hitting just .121 in 107 pinch at-bats over four big-league seasons with the Nationals.
But he and den Dekker have enjoyed strong springs. Moore has clubbed five homers while den Dekker has hit four.
“We think the spot is an offensive position, for what we’re wanting to do,” Mattingly said. “First base is one of the things we think that you would need to be able to do. Playing some outfield helps. But we really think it’s more of a pinch-hit spot.”
PROJECTED OPENING DAY ROSTER
Position players: Dee Gordon, J.T. Realmuto, Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Justin Bour, Adeiny Hechavarria, Derek Dietrich, Miguel Rojas, A.J. Ellis, Ichiro Suzuki, Tyler Moore.
Pitchers: Edinson Volquez, Wei-Yin Chen, Tom Koehler, Adam Conley, Dan Straily, Jose Urena, Dustin McGowan, Nick Wittgren, A.J. Ramos, Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps, Junichi Tazawa.
Wednesday: Marlins RHP Dan Straily at Houston Astros RHP Mike Fiers, 1:05 p.m., West Palm Beach
Thursday: Off day
Friday: Marlins LHP Justin Nicolino vs. Detroit Tigers (to be announced), 7:05 p.m., Jupiter.