If Justin Nicolino doesn’t succeed, the Marlins have no ‘plan B’

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Marlins entered the season with a five-man rotation that has precious few resemblances to the one it currently touts. For the Fish, it’s Nicolino or bust.

There have already been nine pitchers make a start for the Miami Marlins this season. For the most part, they haven’t worked out. If Miami hopes to find stability in their starting rotation this season, they’ll need Justin Nicolino in a major way.

The young left-hander has been given opportunities in the Major Leagues in parts of the 2015, and 2016 seasons. He wasn’t able convince Marlins brass that he belonged at the highest level. After starting the 2017 season in the minor leagues, now is his time.

The Miami Marlins need their 2010 second-round pick to make the leap now, more than ever.

In Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves, the team asked starter Jose Urena to pitch one day short of his regular rest. He pitched well, running into trouble in the seventh inning. He’d been effectively wild to that point, plunking three batters but keeping the Braves off the scoreboard.

It would have been Justin Nicolino’s start. The lefty, fresh off of the disabled list with a bruised finger will draw the first game against the Nationals instead. Attrition has forced Miami to give Nicolino the opportunity. Time will tell if he is able to seize it.

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He was enjoying his best start of the season before his injury. After bruising his thumb on an attempted bunt, Nicolino reached base and stayed in the game to run the bases. He was pulled after three innings of work on the mound. To that point, he hadn’t allowed a runner.

The time is now

He’ll need to continue to pitch that way for the rest of the season. Miami isn’t expecting him to pitch like a Cy Young award winner, but they need to see improvement. They need to see strides in the right direction.

Nicolino will get every opportunity to earn a job in the Major Leagues this season. The team has virtually nothing waiting behind him. Veteran pitcher Tom Koehler is off the disabled list now, and has been sent to AAA. Vance Worley hasn’t shown the ability to pitch more than three effective innings at a time.

Wei-Yin Chen doesn’t appear to be coming back anytime soon. Odrisamer Despaigne was embarrassing to watch. Adam Conley might get another shot at some point this season, but hasn’t been lighting it up in AAA to this point. He has a 4.97 ERA, and 14 walks in 38 innings since his demotion.

The ideal outcome for the Marlins would be to have Nicolino pitch to a 3.50 ERA, and log an average game score in the 55-60 range for the rest of the year. They’d hope to see improvement from there in 2018, with Nicolino entrenched as the number three or four starter.

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Tonights start against the Nationals will be the first step. The Fish are hoping for six strong innings from Nicolino tonight, and a solid bounce back from the bullpen.

The Fish need to go 9-2 the rest of this month to get back to .500 before the month turns over. Nicolino will have at least two starts in that time.