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2019 Marlins Season Preview: José Ureña

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Inconsistent as usual in 2018, the homegrown right-hander could be poised for a career year.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

José Ureña was supposed to be the Marlins’ de-facto ace last season. Instead, he found himself in the headlines for the wrong reasons from (literally) the first pitch.

On Opening Day of 2018, when people were already piling on the Marlins for what was sure to be an awful season, Ureña gave up a leadoff home run to Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs. That would prove to be symbolic of the 98-loss Miami team that never really stood a chance.

How did he get here? Signed as amateur free agent in 2009; called up to majors in 2015

2018 MLB Stats: 9-12, 3.98 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 1.18 WHIP, 130 K in 174.0 IP

2019 ZiPS Projection: 4.36 ERA, 4.65 FIP, 105 K in 144.1 IP

Ureña’s time in Miami has been inconsistent, and last year was no different. Ureña’s 4.74 ERA through August 10 was one of the worst in the Marlins rotation. What has made his tenure in Miami so frustrating is his inability to string together multiple good starts in a row.

On August 15, Ureña again found himself in the middle of controversy. On the first pitch of the game, he hit Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. This was seen as especially egregious around the league, because Acuña was in the midst of a five-game home run streak. The HBP prompted a bench-clearing brawl, and an ejection and a six-game suspension for Ureña. In fact, some people around MLB—even Marlins fans— were so angered by his actions, that they suggested the Fish should cut him.

Marlins fans were probably glad the Fish kept him around, because he was a completely different pitcher upon his return. In his first start after that game, he pitched the club’s only complete game of the season and allowed only one run on two hits against the Washington Nationals.

In-Season Comparison

ERA IP BABIP LOB%
ERA IP BABIP LOB%
First 24 Starts 4.74 129.0 .301 69.0
Last 7 Starts 1.80 45.0 .184 90.7

In his final seven starts of the season, Ureña posted a 1.80 ERA in 45 IP, limiting hitters to a .176 BAA against him. Although he has struggled with control in the past, he had the lowest walk rate (7.2 percent) of all Marlins starters last year.

Coming into Spring Training, there doesn’t seem to be a set ace for the Marlins pitching staff. We’ve seen Don Mattingly take Grapefruit League numbers into account more so than other managers. Ureña will have to work hard and produce if he wants another shot at the Opening Day assignment (Dan Straily would appear to be the most likely alternative).

The 27-year old is still relatively young, and has one of the nastier two-seam fastballs in the game. With the way he ended things last year, he could be turning the corner into the high-level starter that he has shown flashes of. If he can stay consistent, and control his fastball more, he could be one of the crucial pieces in this young, up-and-coming Marlins’ rotation for years to come.