Marlins expect 'pen to make its mark in '14
Cishek leads relief corps that should complement strong starting rotation
MIAMI -- Starting rotations may set the tone, but bullpens typically lock down wins. The Marlins feel they are strong in both departments.
So much of Miami's hopes in 2014 are tied to a young group of starters, headlined by Jose Fernandez, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year Award winner. Fernandez is joined by Nathan Eovaldi, another hard thrower, and Henderson Alvarez, who no-hit the Tigers in the '13 season finale. Jacob Turner, Tom Koehler, Brad Hand and Brian Flynn are among the candidates for the fourth and fifth spots.
But the starters aren't the only group of talented arms set to report for Spring Training workouts on Feb. 16 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla.
The Marlins believe they have an unheralded collection of relievers. In closer Steve Cishek, the club has a proven veteran to register the final outs. The setup roles will be hotly contested when camp gets going.
"We expect our bullpen to continue to be a strength of our team," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "Steve Cishek has proven to be a formidable force in finishing games."
The 2013 season may have been a rough one for the Marlins, who lost 100 games. But the pitching was remarkably effective, considering the team's record.
Miami's relievers posted a 3.42 ERA, matching the 2011 squad for the best in franchise history. The impressive ERA also was 11th best in the Major Leagues a year ago, while their 467 strikeouts ranked 12th. The unit showed the ability to miss bats, and it averaged 8.15 strikeouts per nine innings, second in club history to 2009 (8.20).
With the starting staff recording just two complete games, the bullpen was called upon to perform in the other 160.
Miami spent much of the winter exploring the market for a veteran with closing experience, to offer depth behind Cishek. They found what they were looking for Thursday, reaching agreement on a one-year, $1.25 million deal with Carlos Marmol. The right-hander will be in Miami on Friday to take his physical.
Otherwise, the bullpen will have a similar look to a year ago, with Ryan Webb (Orioles) and Chad Qualls (Astros) the notable subtractions.
To be determined in Spring Training will be the setup and long-relief roles.
Cishek, who converted 34 of 36 save chances, posted a 2.33 ERA. The sidearm-throwing right-hander was especially effective as the season progressed. After the All-Star break, his ERA was a miniscule 0.96 -- allowing three earned runs in 28 innings. His strikeouts per nine innings in that span was 10.6, compared to 8.9 in the first half.
Bridging the gap to the ninth inning remains unsettled. Qualls was the primary eighth-inning reliever last year. Now, A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps, acquired from the Mariners in December in exchange for Logan Morrison, are the front-runners.
There are several other hard-throwing right-handers who will be vying for roster spots, including Arquimedes Caminero and Chris Hatcher, who both throw 95-plus mph.
Mike Dunn will be the main left-hander, and Dan Jennings gained some experience last year in a similar role.
Kevin Slowey opened last year as the No. 2 starter, but the right-hander comes to camp as a non-roster invitee. The veteran could be an option to start, but his role may be more in long relief.
Newcomer Henry Rodriguez has a 99-mph fastball, but he has a history of being wild. Rodriguez is a candidate as a non-roster invitee.
The Marlins also added right-hander Chaz Roe on Thursday, signing the 27-year-old free agent to a Minor League contract. Roe, a first-round Draft pick of the Rockies in 2005, made 21 appearances for the D-backs last season, striking out 24 in 22 1/3 innings.
Perhaps the best bullpen prospect in the organization is Nick Wittgren, who will be in his first big league camp. Wittgren impressed in the Minor Leagues last year, boasting an 0.77 ERA. The right-hander continued to gain notice at the Arizona Fall League.
The Marlins will likely carry seven relievers. Cishek, Dunn, Ramos and Capps are projected locks, meaning three spots are open.
"In front of Cishek, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos and newly-acquired Carter Capps should do their parts in shortening the game," Hill said. "Dan Jennings, Arquimedes Caminero, Chris Hatcher are a few of our younger players that gained valuable experience last season that should help them this year.
"A talented group of non-roster invites -- including Henry Rodriguez, Kevin Slowey and Nick Wittgren -- among others, should create an exciting competition this spring."