While most of his Marlins teammates enjoyed their first day off of the spring, Tom Koehler spent his afternoon Wednesday pitching in a Triple A game on a backfield behind Roger Dean Stadium as his quest for a job in the starting rotation continued.
Facing a lineup which featured Cardinals' top prospects Oscar Taveras and James Ramsey, Koehler tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up four hits and one walk while striking out four before his pitch count got too high.
"I would have liked to have gone a little deeper especially coming off five [scoreless] innings the other day [against the Mets]," said Koehler, who threw 74 pitches, 54 for strikes.
"But considering the circumstances where my pitch count got up with some foul [balls], some good at-bats, I'm still happy where I'm at right now."
Koehler, who in 12 Grapefruit League innings has given up just one earned run and seven hits while striking out 11 and walking two, had a bit of a scary moment in the fourth inning when Cardinals minor leaguer Chris Swauger smacked a line drive back to the mound.
Luckily, the ball struck Koehler right below his buttocks, high up along his right thigh. He recovered, picked up the ball and tossed it to first base for the put out. Koehler then waved a trainer off saying he felt fine.
"I'll tell you if that's one place it's going to get me that's the best spot," Koehler said. "Those are the type of plays people tend to panic on. That's the one that if I was thinking too much I would have picked it up and thrown it down the right field line and allowed the run. I found it, threw it. It didn't hurt."
After going 5-10 with a 4.41 ERA and making 23 starts for the Marlins last season, Koehler came into camp expecting to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation with left-hander Brad Hand and veteran right-hander Kevin Slowey.
Hand has been equal to the task, going 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA, nine hits, 15 strikeouts and two walks over 12 innings. But it looks like the Marlins could be leaning toward Koehler especially since Hand was only asked to pitch an inning of work in another minor league game on Wednesday.
What's been the difference for Koehler this spring?
"It's honestly just knowing what I'm capable of doing," said Koehler, who went 2-1 with a 3.14 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in five starts last September. "I showed myself a lot in September of last season. I'm kind of trying to build off that.
"I belong here and I know that. It's never been about stuff with me. It's always been about minimizing the damage and trying to stay within yourself and not try to do too much. I'm really focusing more on relying on my ability, throwing strikes and letting stuff play out. As soon as it comes out of my hand -- they hit a double or a home run -- so be it. Onto the next pitch. As of right now it's working and it's something I think is going to do a nice job of carrying over into the season."