Life has been hard without baseball to fall back on through spring.
We’ve had stoppages before, including a World Series cancellation in 1994. Still, it’s unprecedented to have a work stoppage without some sort of labor dispute. In lieu of actual live developments, I’ve taken to researching Florida and Miami Marlins history. Over their first 27 seasons, they employed 590 players who actually took the field in a major league game. The 158th player to appear for the Florida Marlins was La Habana, Cuba native Vladimir Núñez.
Núñez was a six-foot-five, 235 lb. right handed pitcher who initially signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the age of 20 in 1996. Like a shot, he rose through their system before making his major league debut on September 11, 1998. Although he wasn’t really done with the minors at this point, he did finish out the season with the big club, appearing in four games but giving up six runs in 5 1/3 innings.
The first half of the 1999 season would see Núñez spend the great majority of his time with the major league club. Out of their bullpen, he appeared in 27 contests, going 3-2 with a solid 2.91 ERA. Although he allowed only 29 hits in 34 innings, his WHIP suffered to the tune of a 1.44 mark due to his 20 walks. On July 8, Arizona sent Núñez to the Florida Marlins with Brad Penny and Abraham Núñez (as a PTBNL, and no relation) for Matt Mantei.
For the better part of the next five seasons, Núñez spent his time in the Marlins rotation and bullpen. Closing out 1999, he pitched in 17 games, starting 12 of them, and earning a 4-8 record with a 4.58 ERA. He struck out 58 in 74 2/3 innings, along with a slightly improved 1.34 WHIP. His best appearance post-trade was likely on July 31, when he held the Pittsburgh Pirates to one hit over a five-inning start. He struck out four and earned no-decision in the eventual 4-2 setback.
Núñez split his time in 2000 between the Marlins and their triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, at that time the Calgary Cannons. For Florida, he again pitched in 17 games and started 12. This time, however, his output was not even close to a National League “average” pitcher. He was 0-6 with a 7.90 ERA and 45 K’s in 68 1/3 innings, along with an indigestion-inducing 1.79 WHIP.
A more-or-less permanent move to the bullpen seemed to do Núñez some good in 2001. He started only three times out of his 52 overall appearances, going 4-5 with a 2.74 ERA. He whiffed 64 in 92 innings overall, and dropped his WHIP to a slightly-better-than-average mark of 1.18. Núñez’ best game of the season, by the Wins Probability Added metric, was on August 28. He earned a mark of 0.337 and earned the victory in a 4-3, 14-inning decision over the Chicago Cubs. Núñez pitched the final two innings flawlessly, facing the minimum and striking out Delino DeShields and Jon Lieber.
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2002 would be the only season in Núñez’ 15-season professional career in which he did not appear in the minors for any length of time. In a career-high and team-second-best 77 appearances, Núñez went 6-5 with a 3.41 ERA, striking out 73 in 97 2/3 innings. For a time, he served as the team’s closer, earning 20 of his 21 career saves during the campaign and pitching to a 1.20 WHIP. On April 23, he ran his record to 3-0 in a 4-3, 12-inning win against the Houston Astros. Although he only struck out one batter, he came through with three shutout innings despite allowing a pair of baserunners and clocked out with a .401 WPA.
2003 would be a different story for Núñez, punctuated by spending most of the year with the Marlins new PCL affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes. Núñez only pitched in 14 games at the major league level, and surrendered multiple runs in seven of his final 12 appearances. The Florida Marlins cut ties with him just prior to starting their seven-game NLCS series against the Cubs on their way to their second title. It was a case of bad timing, as Núñez had missed the Marlins first title by less than a year.
Núñez eventually ended up spending time in several other systems over the next few seasons, including the Colorado Rockies, the Texas Rangers, the St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona, and finally with the Atlanta Braves. He pitched at the major league level for the Rockies in 22 games (3-3, 7.01) and for the Braves in 24 contests (1-2, 4.88). In 2012, he took a job as the pitching coach for the GCL Braves in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.