MIAMI — When the Miami Marlins bullpen let leads slip away time and again during the first two months of the season, the front office took action to stop the troubling trend.
Right-hander Bryan Morris was the first move, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates for a competitive balance A pick in this month’s draft.
Since June 1, his ERA has dropped from 3.80 to 2.57 in eight scoreless appearances with the Marlins. Four of those eight outings have been for multiple innings, including three in a row.
"Mo’s been great," manager Mike Redmond said. "He’s been lights out, and he’s going to be a big part of this team and that bullpen."
The 27-year-old has held opponents to a .200 batting average with 11 strikeouts and four walks in 11 1/3 innings.
Morris credits attacking the zone and his command for the success, though on Thursday, he needed 40 pitches (22 strikes) to finish the seventh and eighth. He matched a season high with three walks and struck out a batter.
Since joining the Marlins, his strike percentage has gone up to 25 percent, when it was 17.1 in March/April and 11.3 in May. The strike-to-ball ratio is 15.9 percent.
That, in turn, has helped his groundball percentage reach 65.7, slightly lower than his 72.7 mark as a rookie in 2012 and higher than his 2013 clip of 57.7. Morris has struck out at least one batter in all but one of his eight outings. This season as a Pirate, he had a five-game stretch without strikeout.
"It’s a lot easier to get outs when you’ve got strike one and in the strike zone consistently," Morris said. "That’s the case with every pitcher in the big leagues. When you get ahead consistently throwing strikes with multiple pitches it’s a lot easier to get outs. Pitching gets hard when you’re behind in the count all the time."
In 35 games upon his call-up last season, Jake Marisnick showed why his defensive skillset is one of the best among outfield prospects.
Marisnick recorded five assists and turned a pair of double plays through the air. He did not commit an error for a perfect fielding percentage.
During the eighth inning of Thursday’s 1-0 loss, Marisnick raced in to catch Daniel Murphy’s shallow fly to center and threw a rocket to first for another out.
"Jake’s got a good arm and aggressive defensively," Redmond said. "He’s done a great job out there."
As a club, Marlins outfielders have 13 assists between five guys — Giancarlo Stanton (four), Christian Yelich (four), Marcell Ozuna (two), Reed Johnson (two) and Marisnick (one).
Miami is tied with the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies for third in the National League.
"You see the athleticism out there with him," Redmond said of Marisnick. "Those guys can cover a lot of ground. That’s fun, especially in this ballpark. The gaps are big and the ballpark’s spacious. When you have fast young guys out here that can cover a lot of ground, pitching wise it’s a lot more comforting when you have those guys running around."
Christian Yelich still has not taken batting practice, but has been cleared for swings in the batting cage. Yelich, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain, is eligible to return at the end of the month.
"If he continues on the path he’s on he’ll be able to go out and play some games, be able to go when his day comes," Redmond said.