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Marlins still weighing bottom of rotation options

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

By CHUCK KING

Associated Press

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) Jose Urena will make Miami's opening day start against the Chicago Cubs and Dan Straily gets the ball the following day.

Beyond that? It' a bit of a mystery that the Marlins have about a week to solve.

Manager Don Mattingly had already announced Urena as Miami's first starter prior to the 26-year-old righty tossing three shutout innings Saturday in a 6-6 tie with Houston.

Miami, though, has five pitchers still vying for the final three rotation spots - and that's after they sent three pitchers to minor league camp on Friday.

"I think we have an idea of what we want to do," Mattingly said. "I think more than anything you just want to make sure it doesn't go totally sideways for somebody and that would change our mind."

Sandy Alcantara remains the most intriguing of the five candidates. The biggest name in the deal that sent big-hitting outfielder Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis, Alcantara and his high-90s mph fastball showed glimpses this spring of why he could make the opening day roster. But he also struggled on Friday, allowing three runs in four innings to St. Louis.

Ready for prime time or not, the rebuilding Marlins could elect to begin Alcantara in the minors as a means of delaying the start of his service time, thereby extending the amount of years he remains under their control. Alcantara made eight relief appearances as a Cardinals call-up last season but has yet to start a major league game.

"I think he's thrown the ball pretty well," Mattingly said. "I know he's still working on some things but a guy that's, I think, come to camp, showed himself well."

Of the other candidates, Odrisamer Despaigne appears to have the most solid chance of beginning the season in the rotation. The four-year veteran who turns 31 in April owns a 2.51 ERA this spring with 12 strikeout in 14 innings. Eight of his 20 appearances with the Marlins last season were starts, and he went 2-3 with a 4.06 ERA in those starts.

One of two left-handers battling for a spot, Justin Nicolino also started eight times in his 20 appearances for Miami last season, going 2-2 with a 5.23 ERA in those starts. Nicolino is out of options, which could prompt the Marlins to keep him with the major league club in some role - either starting or relieving - rather than risk trying to pass him through waivers.

"I think they've done a good job of letting us just compete," Nicolino said.

Miami has a similar decision to make regarding Jacob Turner, who is in Marlins camp as a non-roster invitee. A six year veteran who pitched in 18 games with Washington last season, allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings of relief on Saturday.

Former New York Yankee Caleb Smith also remains in the mix. Acquired in a swap of minor league players and cash during the offseason, Smith made nine appearances with the Yankees in 2017, two of them starts. The lefty is enjoying a strong spring, striking out 11 in 11 innings while posting a 2.45 ERA in four starts.

The starting rotation that breaks camp with Miami could change quickly if Wei-Yen Chen's rehab continues to progress on schedule. Miami signed him to a five-year, $80 million contract in 2016 that hasn't worked out well for the team. Chen is still working his way back from an elbow injury that limited him to five starts in 2017.

He's throwing bullpens on the back fields of the Marlins spring training complex and won't be ready to join the staff for opening day. Miami is not putting a timeline on Chen's return.

"If he stays on track we see him getting back into our rotation," Mattingly said. "It's just a matter of keeping working through the program We've been through this stage a few different times. It's gotten to certain points and that's when we've seen him have the problems."

NOTEWORTHY: Miami signed left handed pitcher Sean Burnett to a minor league deal. A nine-year veteran, Burnett has already reported to minor league camp.

Updated March 17, 2018

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