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After initial ‘shock’ of demotion, Marlins’ Tom Koehler focused on big-league return

Koehler spoke with MLBDD about his role with the Marlins on Thursday.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Though all signs seem to suggest Tom Koehler is nearing the end of time in Miami, the right-hander remains optimistic about being able to help the Marlins in the majors this season.

Koehler, who had been a mainstay in the Marlins’ rotation since 2013, has been involved in an unusual series of transactions over the last month. After a rough start (8 R, 7 H, 4 BB in 3 IP) on May 16, Koehler was initially optioned to Triple-A New Orleans before the team rescinded the option and placed him on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder bursitis. He appeared in two rehab outings with New Orleans before being activated off the DL and optioned to the minors on a more permanent basis.

Though some have speculated that Koehler’s DL stint was a “phantom” move designed to avoid optioning him, Koehler said Thursday that he was dealing with shoulder issues in mid-May. Despite his struggles (7.04 ERA in 38.1 innings), Koehler was initially surprised at the news of his demotion.

“Of course I was shocked,” Koehler said. “I never really thought of it being a possibility, but it was more on me for putting them in a position to have to make that decision.”

“You forget that it’s a possibility,” Koehler said. “Everything for so long... big-league baseball was all I knew. At the time, I had some stuff going on with my arm and I actually had seen a doctor right after I came out of my last start against Houston. I just wanted to get that checked out, so that was on my mind first. I’m pretty good at self-evaluating and I’m self-realistic, so I understand if teams are trying to make a playoff push, having one of their guys go out there with a 7.00 ERA isn’t exactly the best way to do it.”

Miami’s decision to option Koehler after his rehab stint was somewhat expected, as the club had told him of that possibility before sending him to New Orleans. The move lends credence to the idea that the Marlins are working to trade Koehler, as has been suggested in various media reports in the last few weeks.

MLB Network’s Peter Gammons reported last month that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria “wasn’t going to bring back” Koehler in a major-league role, suggesting that a trade was likely. Though reports have linked the Red Sox, Mariners, Orioles and Dodgers to the righty in trade talks, Koehler has not been told by the club that a return to the bigs is out of the question.

“My conversations with Mr. Loria and everyone are usually brief,” Koehler said. “They’ve always been pleasant. I’ve never heard him say anything like that. I’ve never heard anything from the front office. I don’t know if those rumors have any legs or not.”

It would not come as a surprise if Loria, who is known for his unorthodox decision-making, decided to move on from a once-valuable roster piece over eight bad starts. Koehler, who serves as the player’s union representative for the Marlins, has logged over 175 innings while pitching to an ERA under 4.35 in each of the last three seasons.

An innings-eater with a solid clubhouse reputation would be a welcome addition to many clubs, as is evidenced by the multiple teams working to acquire Koehler from Miami. Though a trade appears the most likely scenario from the outside, Koehler, who is now fully healthy after a three-week program to strengthen his shoulder, remains focused on helping the Marlins at the major-league level.

“I’ve seen some of the rumors but right now I’m just focused on getting back to Miami,” Koehler said. “The guys are playing such good baseball right now. I’d love to be part of that. I’ve been in Miami for a very long time. I’ve experienced a lot of things. I’ve been there when we’ve been really bad and I’ve been there when we’ve been marginally good. If these guys are gonna go make a playoff push, I’m trying to get back there to help them by pitching like I’m capable of doing.”

“Until I get a phone call from someone that tells me I’m not part of this organization, I can’t think any other way,” Koehler said.