Randy Wolf steps up for Marlins in first win in nearly 2 years

MIAMI — The Miami Marlins believe they’re in a hunt for a postseason spot and have made early-season moves to prove it.

On Sunday, they traded away a competitive balance pick for reliever Bryan Morris. Pending a physical, former closer Kevin Gregg will also enter the bullpen in the near future.

Veteran left-hander Randy Wolf, whom the Marlins signed after ace Jose Fernandez went down with Tommy John surgery, helped end a three-game skid in a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night at Marlins Park.

Wolf (1-1) pitched six innings, allowing just one run on three hits with seven strikeouts and one walk for his first victory since Sept. 13, 2012, against the Rays. It also marked his first win as a starter since July 17, 2012.

After undergoing a second Tommy John surgery, Wolf sat out the 2013 season to recover. He began 2014 with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Triple-A squad until opting out of his contract and joining the Marlins when they sought an arm to eat innings.

Marlins vs. Rays

"It’s been a long, crazy road, especially recently," Wolf said. "In 2012, when I found out I had no ligament it was tough news, and I knew it was going to be a long road. It was tough in 2013. I tried to make the most of it having an unknown future. Obviously you’re counted out because of your age and being the second one, but it is a gratifying feeling to work hard and come back and have a win. But for me, it’s not time to sit back and relax. I feel like I have more to do and more to do to help this team."

The 37-year-old recorded strikeouts of five of the first nine batters Monday. Through three innings, he needed just 31 pitches (21 strikes). Wolf said locating his fastball and working off a pretty good slider buried right-handed hitters.

More importantly, he served as the perfect example of how to pitch without upper-90s stuff. The other four members of the rotation, who do catch a radar gun’s attention, average 24 years old and only a couple major-league seasons of experience.

Wolf became the oldest starting pitcher to win a game for the Marlins since Al Leiter won at age 39 on June 19, 2005. He tied Jake Peavy for 14th in wins (133) among active pitchers.

"That’s the Randy I remember playing behind in Milwaukee," said Casey McGehee, who went 1 for 3 with a two-run single. "He’s not overpowering, but he mixes and matches. He’s not afraid of contact, and when he’s able to throw a couple pitches for strikes to both sides of the plate, he’s pretty good."

Added manager Mike Redmond: "You saw a veteran go out there and control the strike zone, change speeds, mix and match. He was able to throw all his pitches for strikes, keep them off balance. It was a tremendous effort, exactly what we needed. I thought (Jeff) Mathis did a great job with him. Both of them seemed to be on the same page the whole night. Using all his pitches effectively."

It was a far cry from his first start May 25 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Following two relief outings, Wolf surrendered six runs (four earned) on nine hits in five innings. Miami fell behind 5-0 when he gave up three runs in the first and two in the second.

Wolf didn’t let the club get into an early hole on Monday, retiring the side in the first on nine pitches. Yunel Escobar broke up the no-hitter with a one-out single in the fourth.

Tampa Bay got its lone run in the fifth on Desmond Jennings’ RBI double to left that scored Sean Rodriguez, who had walked to start the frame. It was Wolf’s only free pass.

Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez spoke to Wolf after the sixth, and Wolf admitted his legs were beginning to feel tired. It had been more than a week since he last pitched, so he came out after 86 pitches (52 strikes). Wolf hopes his stamina will return with a regular routine.

"I feel I have minimum 2014 left," Wolf said of his future. "I feel like I have a pretty good routine and I throw the same as I’ve always thrown. It’s not like I was a flame-thrower in my career. The fact that I’ve always thrown 88 (mph) — it’s not like I’ve had to make some huge adjustment.

"I feel like my pitches are still working and physically I get myself prepared every time out there. For me, as long as my arm will last. I’m not worried about my body. Having two Tommy Johns — there’s always a risk there. I feel good physically and do everything I can to be prepared."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.