Injuries to two key starters will force the Miami Marlins to redefine its pitching rotation this season.
The Miami Marlins front office decided long before the start of the 2018 MLB season this would be a franchise that would live and die by its pitching staff. While the results have been a mixed bag with a young staff that has proven at times to be better than the team’s record would indicate, these young arms are still developing.
The Marlins are 24-43 after an 11-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Friday night where change-up specialist Trevor Richards was roughed up by the very pitch that has made him a Major League starter.
It wasn’t pretty. As Joe Frisaro of MLB.com wrote, while opposing batters were hitting at a .158 clip against Richards, the Pirates gave him a rude reception at the plate in the opening game at Marlins Park of the series.
"“Still, the Pirates found a way to chip away at Richards, tagging him for five runs in five innings on their way to an 11-0 win over the Marlins in the series opener at Marlins Park,” he wrote.“The 11 hits allowed are a career high for Richards, who hadn’t given up more than eight in his first 13 starts this season. The 26-year-old had been effective limiting traffic on the bases. His 1.19 WHIP is 20th among all NL starting pitchers.”"
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We know the remainder of Urena’s season is in question because he was transferred to the 60-day I.L. with a lower back issue. Smith could be back in the rotation soon as he was expected to meet with doctors to determine if the inflammation in his right hip has subsided. Getting Smith back on the mound would be a big boost to the Marlins as he was the team’s most consistent pitcher the first two months of the season.
Who now steps forward as the leader of this young staff? Elieser Hernandez was solid in his start last Tuesday but in a losing effort. Jordan Yamamoto was on fire, coming from Double-A Jacksonville and pitching seven innings of scoreless baseball in a shutout win on Wednesday. One of the two starters figures to remain in the rotation once Smith returns.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. The Marlins still have plenty of depth in their minor league system, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote about this week. The front office will have plenty of teams looking to make a deal in the next few years if these youngsters continue to progress up the chain toward the Major League level.
"“Miami appears in good shape, with five talented young pitchers joining injured Jose Urena on the big-league team (Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Caleb Smith, Elieser Hernandez), Jordan Yamamoto (seven scoreless innings in his Marlins debut Wednesday), Zach Gallen dominating Triple A (8-1, 1.57 ERA), top prospect Sixto Sanchez flashing in Double A (1-2, 3.66) and Trevor Rodgers, Braxton Garrett, Edward Cabrera and Jordan Holloway all legitimate prospects at Jupiter,” Jackson wrote."
I am still not sold on Alcantara as a consistent starter on this team. While he looks the part of a dominant “ace”, there are times when he is not the lights-out pitcher the Marlins hoped he would be at this point. Manager Don Mattingly has said on at least two occasions that he wants to see Alcantara challenge hitters more, to become more aggressive on the mound.
The Marlins also have Nick Neidert – who is on the shelf with a knee injury – at Triple-A New Orleans, along with Jorge Guzman (2-6, 3.93 at Double-A), plus Robert Dugger, Chris Vallimont, Will Stewart, Cody Poteet, and Humberto Mejia.
The future looks brighter with these players in the fold. For now, the team must worry about injuries to its current rotation and how to avoid a complete collapse due to injuries. Weathering this storm will help Miami mature as a ballclub. It will also help define this rotation as one that continues to show a glimpse of the future or one that needs to shuffle the deck again to find the right winning combination.