The Marlins might have found a No. 5 starter. Turns out, he was here the whole time.
Right-hander David Phelps pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the Marlins' 5-3 comeback win over the Rockies on Friday, exiting after 70 pitches as he continues to stretch out after relieving for the first four months of the season. Phelps worked around four hits and one walk while fanning four.
Long after Phelps' night ended, Martin Prado's two-run single in the ninth put the Marlins on top for good, erasing what would have been a second consecutive ugly loss after Fernando Rodney's eighth-inning implosion.
Closer A.J. Ramos, two days after his own meltdown against the Cubs, allowed a leadoff single in an otherwise uneventful bottom of the ninth.
"This is the type of game that we're trying to win every day, they need to win every day," manager Don Mattingly said. "We're very similar clubs in my mind. We're both experiencing really a shot at getting into the playoffs for the first time in a while and it's fun. I think these guys love it. I think we'll learn a lot about our guys over these next couple of months. I think we're going to have a good indication of who's who as we get out of this, and that's going to be interesting for us."
The Marlins for weeks have sought stability in the back end of their rotation, the likes of Paul Clemens, Jose Urena, Jared Cosart, Justin Nicolino and Colin Rea all getting shots. Now, they've turned to Phelps, who started double-digit games in each of his past four major league seasons, including 2015 for the Marlins.
Phelps started out rocky, but faced the minimum number of batters over his final 2 1/3 frames. That included three strikeouts looking and a double play.
The last time Phelps pitched this long? Exactly one year ago Friday, when he had a stinker at home against the Mets and lasted 4 1/3. He made one other start in August 2015, but left with a stress fracture that ended his season. He had pitched exclusively out of relief this year.
More important than Phelps' pitch count was "ups and downs," i.e. how many times he was able to watch the Marlins hit, then get back out on the mound and feel good. The plan was for four ups and downs — four innings — but when that went smoothly, Mattingly approach Phelps with a question: How about one more?
Phelps retired the only batter he faced in the fifth, and the thinking is that fifth "up" will help him build toward his next start.
"It's as good as I can ask for," Phelps said. "The biggest thing is we won."
The Marlins almost didn't. With Miami up 1-0 in the eighth, Rodney allowed three runs in one-third of an inning. The Rockies reached him for four hits and one walk before manager Don Mattingly pulled him in favor of rookie righty Brian Ellington, who walked a batter but escaped the jam.
Rodney has pitched poorly since coming to the Marlins from the Padres in a late-June trade, posting a 6.46 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. Rodney has allowed runs in four of his past five outings and hasn't pitched a clean inning since July 18.
Mattingly didn't seem concerned.
"[Rodney has] been through a lot of these," he said. "There's no panic in Fernando, and that's what I really like about him and that's why I know he's going to bounce back and end up doing what we need to get done."
The Marlins picked Rodney up in the ninth. Adeiny Hechavarria had an RBI single and Christian Yelich a sac fly, but Prado's was the big blow.
Rockies closer Carlos Estevez intentionally walked Dee Gordon to load the bases for Prado.
"If you see the stats, I'm leading the [National] League in double plays. That's not a hard thing to find out," said Prado, who has 18 on the year. "That's one of the things I got in my head. So I was just looking for a good pitch to hit."
Ichiro Suzuki struck out looking during a pinch-hit appearance in the seventh inning. Hitless in his last 11 at-bats, Ichiro remains at 2,998 career major league hits.