Adam Conley showed up to spring training flashing a new-look hairstyle — cropped short on the top and sides but left long in the back — a style better known as a mullet.
“Just because I like it,” Conley said.
When it comes to his pitching, though, the Marlins would prefer to see the old-look Conley, the left-hander who established himself as a dependable rotation piece two years ago before going south last season.
“This guy looked like a top starter [in 2016], and last year it just went in the other direction,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
After going 8-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 25 starts in 2017, Conley ended with a 7-7 record and 6.17 ERA — fourth-highest of any of the 125 major-league starters with at least 100 innings — last season.
His mentality now?
“It’s kind of forget about last season,” Conley said Tuesday after going two innings in his spring debut. “I’m totally at peace with everything that’s happened up to this point. But I’m very hungry and motivated to be much better than I’ve ever been.”
Conley wasn’t the only reason the Marlins’ starters recorded the third-highest staff ERA in franchise history last season while logging the fewest innings in a non-strike season.
Injuries to Wei-Yin Chen and Edinson Volquez played a role, too, by forcing the Marlins to turn to a talent-thin farm system for reinforcements.
But the rotation’s collective failure was the unquestionable culprit behind the Marlins’ subpar record despite a productive lineup that could score runs and a defense that was No. 1 in the majors in terms of fielding percentage.
“Starters have to keep you in the game,” Mattingly said. “When you get down four or five [runs] and you’re hitting in the third, now it becomes survival of the game. I don’t think that’s a recipe for anybody.”
For Conley, the first signs of trouble appeared in the second half of 2016 following a hand injury when he began to exhibit diminished fastball velocity.
“Early in the season he was driving the ball into the right-hander and was working off that,” Mattingly said. “Then, I think as the season went on, we started to see, during the course of a game, his stuff would leave him and he’d go from 92-93 [mph] to 88, and it would happen really fast.”
Conley’s fastball was no better last season.
“Last year, the ball didn’t seem to come out the same way,” Mattingly said. “It never did really have that true fire coming out.”
Conley started the year in the rotation, but after making only six mostly unproductive starts, was sent to the minors. He returned after the All-Star break, but the results weren’t much better.
“We think it’s part mechanical,” Mattingly said of the problem. “[And] we felt like part of his winter workouts [before the ’17 season] weren’t what they needed to be.”
Conley attributed part of his downfall to a gradual lowering of his release point. He’s correcting that this spring.
“If you know what you’re looking at, I really look drastically different,” he said. “I’m using my legs more, my butt, my hamstrings, my back a lot more. I’m super encouraged by what I’m doing.”
Conley is contending for a rotation spot. But so are many others. Beyond Dan Straily and Jose Ureña, the other three spots are up for grabs.
“It’s a new year,” Mattingly said. “This is a fresh start for everybody.”