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Marvel excels in new role as reliever

James Marvel has always been a starting pitcher. From high school through his major league debut with the Pirates in 2019, Marvel worked as a starting pitcher. The numbers have always been good, but not spectacular, which led to Marvel lasting until the 36th round of the 2015 Draft when Pittsburgh took him after his sophomore season at Duke. Rather than look to build his resume, Marvel signed with the Pirates and moved through the minors to make his MLB debut.

In his four starts with Pittsburgh in 2019, Marvel had two decent games – his first and last games – where he combined to give up four earned runs in 10 innings for a 3.60 ERA. His other two starts were the problem as he posted a 14.75 ERA in just 7 1/3 innings to finish with an 0-3 record and 8.31 ERA.

Following last season, Marvel left the Pirates organization as a free agent and signed with the Phillies in early March. He was the IronPigs’ opening-day pitcher this season and there was a lot of buzz about him and what to look forward to in his first season with Lehigh Valley. The buzz turned to disappointment when Marvel was 1-5 with a 10.46 ERA through nine starts.

By the end of May, Marvel was fearful of being demoted or released, but the Phillies took a different approach and moved him to the bullpen, an unfamiliar place for the 28-year-old.

“I had a set routine from [age] 15 to this year,” said Marvel. “You are always changing, always evolving, looking for ways to get better and stay healthier during the year and I had developed what I felt was a pretty good five-day routine.”

Even so, Marvel realized that his meeting with Lehigh Valley manager Anthony Contreras could have gone much worse, so he embraced the new opportunity and set about talking to teammates about how to develop a new routine, deciding to adjust rather than risk seeing his career come to an end.

The results have been astounding. The guy who always seemed just a start or two – at times, even a pitch or two – from being a former IronPig has been a true find in his new role as a reliever. In eight relief appearances since May 31, Marvel has gone 2-1 and allowed just four earned runs in 18 innings.

Marvel has adjusted not only to pitching in relief, but pitching in any possible relief situation, which has made the successful adjustment all the more impressive. On three occasions out of the pen, Marvel has gone the usual one inning, but he has also worked as many as 3 2/3 innings to give the Lehigh Valley bullpen a little more depth.

Other than his routine, not much else is different about Marvel. One difference is that he has been able to regain the speed separation between his fastball and change-up, which has helped tremendously. He still throws both a two- and four-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve and his location his come more clearly into focus in his eight relief appearances.

“For me, it’s just about being able to embrace a little bit of chaos and being thrown right into the fire with something new,” said Marvel of the change in roles. “I’m just working my way through and being like, I don’t have the answers but I am going to do my best and rely on seven full years of pro ball experience.”

TOFFEY TURNAROUND... Infielder Will Toffey joined the Phillies organization from the Giants organization right before the start of the season and had to adjust to a lot of changes. The early results were bad and then an injury limited his playing time. Toffey, 27, has officially turned things around and was recently the Phillies Minor League Player of the Month for June when he had a stretch of 22 games where he hit .383 with a .463 on-base percentage with Lehigh Valley.

OPENING EYES... The acquisition of pitcher Michael Plassmeyer was barely a footnote when it was completed. The Phillies sent catcher Austin Wynns to San Francisco to get Plassmeyer, who had unimpressive numbers at the time of the deal. On Saturday, Plassmeyer had his best start of the season when he gave Lehigh Valley 6 1/3 innings against Rochester, allowing just three hits and not walking a batter. He also struck out five and needed just 74 pitches – 56 strikes – to complete his assignment. With Lehigh Valley, Plassmeyer is 1-0, 2.38 in five starts, whiffing 21 in 22 2/3 innings, as compared to 0-6, 7.38 with Sacramento in the Giants organization.

TRANSACTIONS... Pitcher Sam Clay was placed on waivers and claimed by the Mets and pitcher Kent Emanuel was activated from the Phillies 60-day IL and optioned to the IronPigs this past weekend. The Phillies also sent starter Bailey Falter back to Lehigh Valley and recalled reliever Michael Kelly. Johan Camargo and JoJo Romero are still officially on rehab assignments with the IronPigs but will likely be activated before the Phillies trip to Toronto.

PRESS PHOTO BY CHERYL PURSELL James Marvel was a starting pitcher since his teenage years, but a move to the bullpen has been a big help to his prospects as a professional player.