LAKELAND, Fla. -- For most of Spring Training, there's been an open competition for the primary setup role in Marlins camp, a contest to decide who would get the most opportunities to be the guy to hand the ball to closer Heath Bell in the ninth inning.
It appears a winner has been declared: right-hander Edward Mujica.
It's not exactly a shocking development, as Mujica appeared to be the front-runner once it was clear Juan Carlos Ovideo, the reliever formerly known as Leo Nunez, wasn't going to be an option. Manager Ozzie Guillen had said, however, that the spot had to be earned, and that it wouldn't go automatically to someone based on last year's results.
Mujica was competing with right-handers Ryan Webb, Jose Ceda and Steve Cishek and left-hander Mike Dunn for the job. On Monday, pitching coach Randy St. Claire, whom Guillen had said he would rely on to make the call, did just that.
"Edward's the guy who got the most chances last year," St. Claire said. "For me, it's his to lose."
Mujica certainly has done nothing to lose it. He allowed his first run of the spring on Sunday, and has a 1.80 ERA in five Grapefruit League innings. He's struck out six and, perhaps more importantly, walked none.
"He's not going to walk guys, and that's the thing you need out of the guys in the back end of your 'pen," St. Claire said. "If he gets beat, he will get beat by getting hit."
Mujica didn't get hit much last year, finishing with a 2.96 ERA over 76 innings, allowing just 14 walks all season. Of all the relievers who were competing, Mujica did have the most eighth-inning appearances, with 33 1/3 of his 76 innings coming in the eighth. Dunn was next with 22 of his 63 frames.
The Marlins still could use lefty Randy Choate in the eighth to face tough left-handed hitters. But once it became clear Oviedo wasn't going to make it in time for the season, Mujica became the logical choice for the setup role, and he cemented it with his strong spring performance.
Choate enjoys hard day's work in spring debut
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Randy Choate threw his first 19 pitches in Grapefruit League action on Monday, which may not sound like all that much, especially considering Opening Day is less than two weeks away. But for a lefty specialist like Choate, it was making up for a good amount of lost time.
"That was like two weeks of work for me," Choate joked.
The veteran southpaw had been held out of game action with a right lat injury before facing four Tigers hitters on Monday afternoon. Choate faced two righties and two lefties, throwing 12 of his 19 pitches for strikes.
With the exception of a two-out double off the bat of lefty-hitting Brennan Boesch, Choate got the job done, getting three groundouts to the right side.
"I didn't really get my fastball where I wanted it on Boesch, but other than that, the side felt great, the elbow feels good," said Choate, whose 2011 season ended in mid-August because of a small elbow tear that did not require surgery. "[I was] a little amped up, almost threw through my sink, but I was able to get three ground balls, so I can't totally complain."
"Finally, we see him," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He did a good job. As long as he's healthy, I think he can contribute and help us a lot. There are a lot of tough lefties in this league, good hitters. That guy, coming out of the bullpen, he can help us a ton."
Choate was extremely helpful in 2011, appearing in 54 games and finishing with a 1.82 ERA. The southpaw held left-handed hitters to a .145 batting average, and that will be what he'll be asked to do again now that he has a clean bill of health. And it might be that elbow issue that will allow Choate to not have any difficulty being ready for the start of the season.
"I threw a lot of [bullpen sessions] coming into this spring, facing guys at the local high school because of the elbow," Choate said. "I got a lot of work like that in. I know it's not the same as throwing here, but I had to rehab that elbow, so I got plenty of throwing in. My arm is really way ahead of where it normally is coming into Spring Training. I think I'll be ready. I don't think there will be any reservations; not on my part, anyways."
Choate will pitch again Wednesday against the Astros in Kissimmee, then will go on back-to-back days on Saturday and Sunday -- always a good test for a reliever trying to ramp it up for Opening Day. Based on how he was treated after his outing on Monday, however, no one seems to be concerned about his ability to answer the starting bell.
"[Pitching coach Randy] St. Claire, the first thing he said, nothing like, 'Hey, how's your side?'" Choate said. "It was right into pitching coach mode: 'Hey, you're coming up a little bit on your sliders.' It's good to be back."
Marlins' rotation order set up nicely for season
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The starting rotation is lined up the way the Marlins want it.
Pitching coach Randy St. Claire confirmed that Ricky Nolasco will pitch Sunday and Carlos Zambrano on Monday in the two-game exhibition series against the Yankees at Marlins Park.
That sets the starting five up with Josh Johnson going Opening Night, April 4, and Mark Buerhle getting the nod for Miami's second game, April 5, in Cincinnati.
Nolasco is the Marlins' No. 3 starter, and he will pitch April 7 against the Reds, with Zambrano taking the hill the following day. Anibal Sanchez, who is a little behind the other starters in terms of being stretched out this spring, will wait until April 9 for his first start, in Philadelphia for the Phillies' home opener.
Sanchez will be ready to throw about 90-95 pitches for that first start, while the others should be able to go 100-105 pitches in their first turn through the rotation.