WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Thoughts and notes on the Marlins pitching staff on the first day everyone was present at spring training:
### The Marlins haven’t guaranteed Jarred Cosart anything, even indicating a willingness to send him to the minors if he doesn’t win a rotation spot. But let’s be clear: The Marlins would feel a lot better about their rotation if he thrives this spring and wins the No. 4 job, behind Jose Fernandez, Wei Yin Chen and Tom Koehler.
But here’s the question: Is the 25-year-old Cosart the pitcher who went 13-11, with a 3.69 ERA for Houston and Miami in 30 starts in 2014, or closer to the one who went 2-5 with a 4.52 ERA in 13 starts last year during a season disrupted by vertigo?
One encouraging sign: Batters hit just .231 against him in 2014, after his July trade to Miami, and .243 last season.
“At my best, I’ve shown I can beat the best,” he said. “I showed in 2014 what I could do. I feel great, haven’t had any vertigo symptoms.”
He said his first-ever bout with vertigo last year “was pretty unbearable. It was like a really drunk feeling, everything spinning.”
Symptoms subsided by September after “therapy, rehab, lots of head exercises, following laser points with my eyes, lots of crazy stuff. The doctor said I don’t have to worry about it any more.”
### Of the other contenders for the final two rotation spots, Adam Conley (4-1, 3.76) impressed the Marlins the most last year, though some internally believe Justin Nicolino (5-4, 4.01) has the higher ceiling. Edwin Jackson (4-3, 3.07) was far more effective as a reliever last year than as a starter the previous two, but the Marlins would be comfortable with him as a No. 5. David Phelps (4-8, 4.50, missed final seven weeks with stress fracture in forearm) can’t be discounted.
Kendry Flores (1-2, 4.97) and Jose Urena (1-5, 5.25) are long shots and it would be a bad sign if perennially disappointing Brad Hand is in the rotation.
### Don Mattingly has no more important decision than deciding whether he wants AJ Ramos or Carter Capps pitching the ninth.
Ramos converted 32 of 36 save chances last season, with a 2.30 ERA and .184 average against, but allowed six home runs in 70 innings and said he stressed out his parents by getting himself into difficult situations too often.
“This is nothing new to me,” Ramos said of needing to win the closer’s job again. “Nothing ever comes easy to me. My whole life, I’ve had to work my butt off.”
Capps was usually jaw-droppingly dominant (.168 average against, 58 strikeouts and 18 hits allowed in 31 innings) but missed the final two months with a strained elbow. He says he’s healthy.
He doesn’t have a career save, and while everybody loves his stuff, two scouts have told me they’re concerned about his durability because his unique delivery puts so much pressure on his arm. Mattingly suggested closing might be better for Capps’ health because when he throws in the bullpen, he knows he would be coming in the game.
Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan and Brad Johnson combined on an interesting piece on Ramos and Capps on their web site, which we encourage reading. Some highlights:
“When Ramos runs into trouble, it’s with his fastball. The pitch is merely adequate which makes him a somewhat uncommon closer in this age of blazing heat. He still has velocity – 93 mph worth of it. He just doesn’t get the best results with the pitch.
“When he slumped last season, he had four multi-run innings in the space of 15 games. What do you want to bet his fastball was to blame in those games? (hint, it was). Make no mistake, Ramos is a very good relief pitcher despite his ordinary fastball.”
Fangraphs, in that piece, calls Capps “arguably the best reliever in all of baseball. He throws just two pitches, and they’re both elite. Ridiculously so. His fastball averages 99 mph. With his deceptive [delivery] and excellent extension, it’s perceived to average about 101 mph. Sometimes it’s even faster. When they swung, hitters fouled it off 41 percent of the time. They whiffed 35 percent of the time. That leaves about 24 percent of swings as a ball in play.
“With Capps, it just seems a matter of time before somebody puts a barrel on a fastball. Even Aroldis Chapman allows the occasional extra base hit. Capps’ fastball allowed just one double and one home run. His elite velocity should keep him in the discussion for best reliever in baseball.”
### Besides Ramos and Capps, Mike Dunn and Bryan Morris will be in the bullpen, Phelps presumably will be if he isn’t the fifth starter and Kyle Barraclough and Brian Ellington have a good chance to stick. Veteran left-hander Craig Braslow, with the Red Sox the past four years, must pitch well this spring for the Marlins to keep him and his $1.5 million salary.
That’s eight relievers, with seven being the most the Marlins likely can afford to keep. And room likely would be made for Jackson if he’s effective in the spring but isn’t the No. 5 starter. So that’s nine. Injuries can sometimes sort these things out.
Difficult to see Hand (4-7, 5.30) sticking again after five years of underperforming. Though some believe Conley would be an effective reliever, the Marlins likely would want him to pitch as a starter at Triple A if he doesn’t win a rotation spot.
### The Marlins need a strong comeback year from Dunn, whose ERA rose from 2.66 to 3.16 to 4.50 the past three seasons, with 75 base-runners allowed in 54 innings in 2015. He had 23 holds, no saves and three blown saves last season.
He still throws hard (65 strikeouts), but his location wasn’t as sharp. Morris (5-4, 3.14, 18 holds, two blown saves) is competent, but batters hit .275 off him.
### Really curious to see what two pleasant surprises (Barraclough and Ellington) can do this year.
Barraclough, acquired from St. Louis for Steve Cishek, exceeded expectations: 2.59 ERA in 24 innings and a .154 average against.
Ellington, a 16th-round draft pick in 2012, also impressed: He throws in the high 90s, was 2-1 with a 2.88 ERA, and batters hit .193 off him.
Beyond Capps, the Marlins have “a phalanx of guys who throw 96-100 like Kyle Barraclough, Brian Ellington, Bryan Morris, Jose Urena,” Peter Gammons said. “It is not out of the realm of possibility that with the staff they have assembled and paid for to work pitching — Jim Benedict, Juan Nieves for starters—the Marlins could have the best bullpen in the National League East come July.”
So the bullpen isn’t burdened, it’s so important that the fourth and fifth starters get the Marlins deep into games. A healthy, productive Cosart would help.
### Before learning today that Beno Udrih would need season-ending foot surgery, the Heat was disinclined to sign a player to the veteran’s minimum until the range of March 8, because committing to a player for the remainder of the year before that point would push the Heat back over the tax threshold.
Another way to avoid the luxury tax is Miami could sign a player to a 10-day contract now and then cut him and leave the roster spot open for a while. But no high-quality point guards have been cut or bought out in recent days. John Lucas III and Tony Wroten are among those available.
And the Heat can look at it this way: After working nearly eight months to get below the tax threshold, why would Miami blow it by adding an 11th man for the next two weeks?
If the Heat waits until March 7/8, the Heat will consider players from a list it has compiled –-- one that includes Dorell Wright, Wroten, Jordan Crawford, Jason Thompson, D-League players and some others likely to be available.
### Pat Riley hasn't spoken to South Florida media in the past couple of weeks, but his comments to the team's web site Tuesday made it clear that he doesn't want to pay a luxury tax this season, with the tax far more onerous for repeater teams -- which Miami was positioned to be this season before dropping below the tax threshold.
“You’ve got to really see the big picture in where you are,” Riley said. “From 2014 to this point, once LeBron [James] left, we had some decisions to make. We had always been looking at 2016 and 2017. Just like back in 2006 we looked at 2010. That’s where our mind is. We want tremendous flexibility. We don’t want to be constrained by any repeater tax. 2016 and 2017 have become the new 2010.
“What happens in ’16 and ’17, are the next two years of being able to build this team back to a championship contender. That’s our goal. That’s my goal.”
### Because Goran Dragic is a kind, quiet soul who wants to fit in and not step on toes, he admits it's difficult sometimes to assert himself when playing with Dwyane Wade.
But Wade and coaches told him that he should continue being aggressive even with Wade back in the lineup on Monday, and Dragic's 24 points against Indiana were the second-most he has ever scored when playing alongside Wade.
"Not only D-Wade, but coaches [also] said they need me to be who I am, to be myself, to be aggressive, to move the ball and create for others," Dragic said Tuesday. "Finally, I can say I feel really comfortable with this situation right here right now."
### With 25 points and 23 rebounds and 19 and 18 in his past two games, Hassan Whiteside (per Elias) became the first player with back-to-back games of at least 18 and 18 since LaSalle Thompson did that for Kansas City in 1984.
### With the NFL Combine starting, I asked NFL Network's Mike Mayock on a conference call today about what would make sense with Miami's pick at No. 8. He seemed most enthusiastic about Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.
If Hargreaves "went 8th to Miami, it would be a heck of a pick," Mayock said. "He's that good. The most natural corner in the draft is Hargreaves. Great feet, change of direction, can play press, can play off. There's going to be a lot of conversation about whether [FSU's] Jalen Ramsey is a corner or safety.
"[As far as] linebackers, in the 4-3 type group, Myles Jack should be healthy. He and Jaylon Smith [whose 2016 status is in question after knee surgery] are by far the two best linebackers in that situation. A guy I think has gained a lot of steam in the last month is Darron Lee from Ohio State. He's kind of a weak outside linebacker. He probably will run in the 4.4s and everyone is going to get all excited about Darron Lee. He's more of a 20 to 32 [first-round range] guy for me. But he's going to go in the first round and he fits what Miami does.
"As far as edge guys are concerned, defensive end [Joey] Bosa is probably gone. Then you get into [Eastern Kentucky's] Noah Spence. I think he fits a 3-4 team a little bit better [than Miami's 4-3]. But in today's day and age, an edge rusher is an edge rusher."
### The Dolphins want to re-sign linebacker Spencer Paysinger, who had 25 tackles and played well on special teams in 14 games. Jelani Jenkins, Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt are the other linebackers seemingly most likely to return. The Dolphins want to upgrade over free agent Kelvin Sheppard and under-contract Koa Misi remains at risk.
### Please see the last post for details on UM's pursuit of University of Texas safety Adrian Colbert, who visits Miami's campus this weekend.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz