KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Hayden Penn made a case for himself in the competition for one of the Marlins’ three remaining rotation spots, while another hopeful arm wasn’t quite as sharp.
Penn, a 25-year-old right-hander, started and retired nine straight batters during three perfect innings of work, and the Marlins got back-to-back home runs from outfield prospect Mike Stanton and Dan Uggla in a 16-4 win over the Houston Astros on Wednesday.
Penn struck out Pedro Feliz to end the second inning and didn’t walk anyone during a tidy 31-pitch outing. He is integrating a sinker into his repertoire and was very pleased with the results. He threw almost as many sinkers as fastballs and ended up getting the groundballs he needed.
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“It’s something I’m trying to incorporate more into my game,” Penn said of the sinker. “I figure it’s a pretty good sign to be getting ground balls, especially when I’m behind in the count. As long as I stay committed to it, I think its going to help me down the road.”
Penn is one of six pitchers competing for the final three spots in Florida’s rotation behind ace Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Chris Volstad, who also pitched three innings Wednesday, Rick VandenHurk, Anibal Sanchez, Andrew Miller and Sean West are also in contention.
Penn is in a make-or-break situation this season. He’s out of team options for the second straight year after being traded from Baltimore last spring. If he doesn’t make the team, he’ll likely be traded again.
Penn was 1-0 with a 7.77 ERA while striking out 27 in 22 innings at the big league level. He was more effective at Triple-A New Orleans, where he went 2-4 with a 4.11 ERA in 13 starts.
“I know what the process is like,” Penn said. “Last year, I was wondering day-in and day-out. It’s so hard to get guys out the way it is. To worry about everything just makes it impossible on yourself. All I worry about is what I do when I get out there and get in between the lines and they hand me the ball.”
Volstad was not nearly as effective for the Marlins. The 6-foot-8 right-hander surrendered four runs on six hits over three innings after coming on in relief during the fourth. He gave up a two-run home run to minor leaguer Chris Johnson in the fifth.
Volstad has added a slider to his arsenal this spring and is trying to throw it as much as possible to get a feel for it.
“I wanted to throw a couple more sliders this time out but it wasn’t as good as I’ve thrown it,” Volstad said. “You got to figure for inconsistencies this early. But the majority of the hits I gave up were on the slider. I had a good changeup. The fastball, I wasn’t really getting through it a whole lot.”
Reigning rookie of the year Chris Coghlan had two hits, including a fifth-inning triple, and four RBI for the Marlins. Outfielder Brett Carroll had three hits, scored four runs and drove in another two. Emilio Bonafacio, Brian Barden, Uggla, Wes Helms and Gaby Sanchez all added two hits each for the Marlins.
Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez was ineffective for the second consecutive start this spring. After allowing three runs in two innings against Detroit on March 5, Rodriguez allowed six runs, four earned, on six hits over three innings.
“Right now wherever I’m trying to throw the ball I’m missing,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to throw the ball down and looking towards the corners. I try to go fastball inside and I miss in the middle. I try my breaking ball down, I miss up or in the middle.”
Rodriguez set career highs and led the team in wins (14), starts (33), ERA (3.02) and strikeouts (193) last season. Rodriguez signed a one-year, $5 million deal a few weeks ago and is slotted to be the No. 2 starter in between ace Roy Oswalt and Brett Myers.
Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman and Pedro Feliz each had one hit for the Astros, who totaled just eight hits. Feliz and Berkman each scored a run.