Marlins aim to continue Phillies skid

MIAMI — Ace of the staff is an unofficial designation that nevertheless comes with a great deal of pride.

It means, of course, that you are the best starting pitcher on your team, the player the manager most wants on the mound to stop a losing streak or to win a big game.

Last year, right-handers Aaron Nola of the Philadelphia Phillies and Jose Urena of the Miami Marlins each earned that “ace” distinction. Both men led their teams in wins.

On Wednesday, Nola (3-1, 2.58 ERA) and Urena (0-4, 4.91 ERA) will match up at Marlins Park in the finale of a three-game series.

The Marlins won Tuesday’s game 2-1 on Yadiel Rivera’s walk-off single over a drawn-in infield in the 10th inning. It was a big moment for Rivera, who turns 26 on Wednesday.

Miami (11-18) has won four straight games and six of seven. The Marlins have also claimed three consecutive series.

Philadelphia (16-13) has slumped, losing four straight games.

Urena, meanwhile, is off to a rough start after going 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA in his 2017 breakout campaign. But despite his winless April, he appears to be pitching better than those results. For example, his walk rate has actually improved from last year, from 3.4 to 2.7.

His strikeouts are also up, from 6.0 to 7.1. And while he is allowing more hits — from 8.1 to 9.0 — his homers are down (1.4 to 0.8).

Last Friday against the Colorado Rockies was typical of Urena’s hard-luck April. He pitched seven innings and allowed just one run, and yet he took the loss.

That same night, Nola also went seven innings but allowed three runs … and yet got the win as his offense supported him in a 7-3 victory.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler credits Nola’s poise with his fast start.

“He’s cool, calm and collected,” Kapler said. “That’s Nola. That’s his leadership, and it doesn’t matter if he gives up three runs in the first inning. He’s the same dude. He’s going to go back out there and attack the hitters.”

The Phillies signed free agent Jake Arrieta in March, adding the former Cy Young winner to the rotation on a three-year, $75 million deal. Kapler said Nola — who has yet to hit free agency — has similar traits to Arrieta.

“Aaron is confident,” Kapler said. “Jake is a bold and strong leader. They are both special in their own ways.”

Among the batters Nola is expected to face on Wednesday is lefty-hitting first baseman Justin Bour, who has missed four straight starts due to back spasms. He provided 18 doubles, 25 homers, 83 RBIs and a .902 OPS last year.

“He’s ready,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Bour, who slugged a pinch-hit homer on Tuesday.

The Marlins may also have shortstop JT Riddle back soon. Riddle, who has battled tendinitis in his right shoulder, has progressed in his rehab at Triple-A New Orleans.

Marlins rookie outfielder Braxton Lee, who made the Opening Day roster before getting sent down to New Orleans, has a hamstring injury and will be unavailable for a while.

As for the Nola-Urena matchup, assuming neither throws a complete game — a rarity in today’s baseball — it could come down to a bullpen battle.

Miami has several hard throwers in its pen, including rookie Tayron Guerrero, who on Monday fired the fastest pitch in the majors this year (101.8 mph). Drew Steckenrider (1.23 ERA) and Kyle Barraclough (2.13 ERA) are other hard-throwing Miami relievers.

The Phillies’ bullpen is led by Hector Neris, who has five saves, and Edubray Ramos, who has a 0.69 ERA.

On Tuesday, the Marlins won this battle as their bullpen pitched four scoreless innings. The Phillies bullpen did not pitch poorly — one run in 3 1/3 innings — but they absorbed the loss after Rivera’s walk-off single.