Koehler making case for fifth rotation spot

Koehler making case for fifth rotation spot

JUPITER, Fla. -- A frontrunner appears to be emerging for the Marlins' fifth starter spot.

Tom Koehler, the incumbent, is certainly helping his cause. On Sunday, the right-hander held the Tigers in check for four shutout innings, striking out four, while allowing only a first-inning single to Miguel Cabrera.

Koehler's day was done after 47 pitches, with 35 strikes.

"We talked about opportunity and we talked about guys wanting it, and he's gone out there and pitched the way that he needs to pitch," manager Mike Redmond said. "That spot is going to be big for us, and he's definitely gone out there and done what he's needed to do at this point."

It's just two starts, but Koehler's thus far given up one run on four hits with six strikeouts and one walk over seven innings.

"Tommy pitched great. He has all spring," Redmond said. "He looks like a different guy from last year to this year."

Stuff has never been an issue for Koehler, whose fastball runs up to the mid-90s.

Establishing fastball command is his primary objective in every bullpen he throws, and now every game.

Thus far, he's been able to do that, which appears to have given him the inside spot to be in the rotation. Brad Hand, Kevin Slowey and Brian Flynn are among the others in contention for the fifth spot.

"I did a good job of getting ahead, and locating all my pitches for a strike," Koehler said. "Really, it's just getting ahead. That put me in position to expand the zone a little bit in certain counts."

After Cabrera's two-out single in the first inning, Koehler retired the final 10 he faced.

Cabrera's hit was a fastball away.

"He's one of those guys that you almost feel like he is one step ahead of you," Koehler said. "You've got to really make sure you execute all your pitches. If you make a mistake, you know that mistake can become a souvenir pretty quickly. That's why he's been as good as he's been the last couple of years. You don't win the Triple Crown based on luck.

"It was a pitch that I'd throw again. It's a lot better seeing him on first base than slapping five with his teammates."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter