Marlins recall hard-throwing prospect

De La Cruz will fill much-needed long-relief role out of bullpen

(Albuquerque Isotopes)

By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com | June 25, 2008 4:30 PM

MIAMI -- Something must've felt strikingly different this time around for Frankie De La Cruz.

The 24-year-old right-hander was called up from Triple-A Albuquerque, for the second time this season, on Wednesday when reliever Matt Lindstrom was optioned after the Marlins' 6-4 loss to the Rays on Tuesday.

And at about 3:45 p.m. ET, the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder wandered into the clubhouse carrying a couple of large black suitcases and a big white smile.

"I always like coming here," De La Cruz said as he walked toward his locker and was greeted by the rest of the Marlins' pitchers. "I feel like I can pitch at this level, and I really feel like I can help this team."

But this stint with the Marlins will likely be nothing like his last one.

A postponement at Dolphin Stadium on May 24 against the Giants scratched scheduled starter Burke Badenhop from the next day's doubleheader and forced the Marlins to make an emergency move from their farm system. That's when Dominican-born De La Cruz, three days removed from an outing that saw him throw 8 2/3 innings, woke up at 3 a.m. and headed to South Florida for his first Major League start.

Because of that, things obviously didn't go very smoothly. The righty lasted only three innings, giving up two runs on four hits while walking four on 65 pitches. The next day, he was back in the Minors.

Considering the circumstances, however, Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said he noticed improvement.

"We saw a big difference in those three innings than how he was in Spring Training," said Gonzalez about De La Cruz, one of the players who came over in the deal that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers in December. De La Cruz appeared in six games out of the bullpen in his rookie year for Detroit last season, posting a 6.75 ERA in 6 2/3 innings.

"He had a second pitch going, his command was better, his ball had some life, kept it in the strike zone," Gonzalez added. "Even though he didn't go deep in the ballgame ... we saw enough of him to feel like there was some improvement in him."

This time around, De La Cruz's stay may be a little bit more permanent. Gonzalez said he will be a much-needed long-relief option out of the bullpen -- a bullpen that has already lost 12 games this season and is fresh off blowing a 3-2 lead going into the eighth inning on Tuesday.

De La Cruz, who went 9-3 with a 4.12 ERA in 14 starts for the Isotopes this year, said he should be even better this time because of his ability to throw his curveball more often. De La Cruz relies on his mid-90s fastball, sinker and changeup, but said he has regained his curveball in recent weeks in Albuquerque.

"I didn't have control over [the curveball] before," De La Cruz said. "It was just about me having confidence in it. I started throwing it in the bullpen and using it in the games, and now I feel like I can really use it."

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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