Miami Marlins: Is pitcher Pablo Lopez the forgotten starter?

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 26: Pablo Lopez #49 of the Miami Marlins throws the ball against the St Louis Cardinals during a spring training game at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on February 26, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 26: Pablo Lopez #49 of the Miami Marlins throws the ball against the St Louis Cardinals during a spring training game at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on February 26, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /
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After two seasons that were affected by injuries, will Marlins starter Pablo Lopez show he can be a difference-maker as the team’s No. 3 pitcher in 2020?

It’s fair to say that Miami Marlins pitcher Pablo Lopez is the “Man in the Middle” of the team’s starting rotation.

Penciled in as the third starter for the 2020 season, the 24-year-old still has a lot to prove in what has become a wait and see season for this franchise.

The Marlins front office and coaching staff are also waiting to see what happens with Lopez in 2019 after a 5-8 season with a 5.09 ERA in only 21 games. Injuries once again stole a good portion of the season for the right-hander. And now that this has become something of the new norm for him, can Marlins get a full season from one of their more promising pitchers?

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For the moment Lopez is squarely entrenched in the middle of the rotation. Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith will go first and second in the order. Robert Duggar and Jordan Yamamoto appear to be the fourth and fifth starters for Don Mattingly’s team.

Lopez must show the same kind of dominance on the mound that he showed in 2018 in his ascent through the minors to make his MLB debut prior to the All-Star game.

"As my Marlin Maniac colleague, Kevin Kraczkowski wrote, “Lopez, a six-foot-three, 200 lb. right-handed pitching, lefty-hitting starter from Cabimas, VZ, is turning 24-years-old today. Now entering his third season of major league ball with the Marlins, Lopez started his professional career in the Seattle Mariners minor league system in 2013. Four seasons at various levels of their minors would see Lopez start in 46-of-60 appearances, and post a 21-11 record and a 3.37 ERA, with 189 strikeouts in 288 1/3 innings.”"

The Marlins want to see what they have in terms of depth from the pictures who remain on the team’s Major-League roster this spring. There will come a time when prospects like Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, and Nick Neidert change the look of the team’s starting rotation.

The Marlins need Lopez to be the balance in the rotation. Both Yamamoto and Duggar have a chance to build on their abbreviated rookie season’s last year. Smith was the team’s best strikeout artist. Alcantara, despite a losing record, proved that he could be an ace for this franchise.

Last year, Lopez came to camp a bit more in shape and added some velocity to his pitches, which helped him secure his spot in the rotation. But a shoulder issue sidelined him again, much as it did toward the end of the 2018 season. It’s something the coaching staff will monitor closely.

Lopez had shown he could be consistent on the mound during camp and in Spring Training games prior to MLB called off all baseball activities due to fears of the coronavirus. The time off from the mound could allow him to rest his arm and continue to mentally prepare for what lies ahead.

Once the season starts again, can he once again return to the form he has displayed or will it be even better than first thought? This is a pivotal season for Lopez. Is he going to take the next step to prove he can be a top-shelf starter for the Marlins? Or, will his injury history halt his progress once again?

There may not be another pitcher on the Marlins staff who has as much riding on this season as Lopez. He hopes the start of his 2020 campaign finishes the same way. That should be a huge lift to the team’s pitching staff.

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