Fifth starter competition remains heated battle

JUPITER, Fla. — Not much clarity was offered to the Marlins’ fifth starter competition on Saturday afternoon.

Brad Hand, so effective all Spring Training, had his roughest outing. The Mets tagged the left-hander for five runs in four innings, and he gave up home runs to Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores. He also walked three, with two scoring on homers.

While the bottom line was disappointing for Hand, the pure stuff remains promising. Because when he throws strikes, he has potentially dominating stuff.

So, even though the performance wasn’t what Hand was looking for, the outcome didn’t diminish what the Marlins think of the 23-year-old. He still is expected to make the Opening Day roster, but in what capacity? He will either be the fifth starter, or make it as a long reliever.

What Saturday did was remind what Hand is capable of, positively and negatively. The minus is the mechanics were off, causing him to create little to no deception. Sometimes he leans back too much, and falls off to the side of the mound, causing him to misfire. The upside is the 91-94 mph he was regularly throwing. If he can repeat his delivery, the upside is tremendous, and he would give the rotation a lefty alternative.

The Marlins also are testing their players now by allowing the competition to play out.

“It’s totally different now, the last seven or eight days left in the [spring] season,” manager Mike Redmond said. “Teams are throwing their A-lineups out there. So you really get a feel for where guys are at. Now, you’ve got your best competition. It’s good to see how guys match up now against true big league hitters. That’s why sometimes you can evaluate the best the last eight or nine days of Spring Training.”

The Marlins are evaluating whether to go with Hand, Tom Koehler or Kevin Slowey for the fifth spot.

Hand is out of options, and he either makes the club or risks being traded, which is unlikely.

Koehler has been so promising, seemingly getting better every start. It’s not just Spring Training. The right-hander’s success dates back to last year.

Koehler does have options. He also can pitch in relief, and probably is better suited in that role than Hand. However, it is hard not to reward what Koehler has done this spring. At this point, Koehler remains the frontrunner to start.

The right-hander also is starting on Monday against the Nationals in Jupiter. If he keeps up his impressive showings, he could cement the fifth spot by how he performs against the team many believe will win the National League East.

Slowey, a non-roster invitee, has an uphill climb.

Working in his favor though is his big league track record.

Joe Frisaro

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