Future hinted by Marlins' strong rotation
Led by Fernandez, Miami's starters offer glimpse of what's to come
MIAMI -- When it comes to pitching, the Marlins believe they are well-armed. In time, they also expect to become very formidable. It's just a matter of when they will reach the next level.
"Without a doubt," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "We've got a young starting staff. I think once they figure out how to pitch and not just throw, they're going to be dangerous. You've got guys right now throwing as hard as they can and not really hitting their spots. At times they will, but they're kind of going with stuff right now, which is good. They can get away with it."
But ability alone doesn't get the job done. There have been mistakes in all areas of Miami's game right now, which is why the club is 11-14 heading into Tuesday.
At times, the Marlins have been hurt by questionable pitch selection as well as pitchers badly missing their locations.
"You just talk about how we've performed this first month of the season," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "I think you've seen their brilliance, but you've also seen their youth at times. I think we all understand that's part of the process. We are built with our pitching, so we go as our starting pitching goes."
Record aside, the Marlins clearly feel they are headed in the right direction, because they feature one of the best starters in the game in 21-year-old sensation Jose Fernandez.
The reigning National League Rookie of the Year struck out 14 over eight scoreless innings in his last start, a 1-0 win over the Braves at Turner Field. His fastball maxed at 100 mph that night, and he dominated with his slider and curveball. On Tuesday, the gifted right-hander once again faces Atlanta, this time at Marlins Park in the series opener.
Miami's rotation remains somewhat under the radar, but it has the makings of becoming one of the best in the National League.
"We will be really good," Fernandez said. "We are proving it right now."
Fernandez anchors a rotation that includes Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Tom Koehler. Because Jacob Turner is on the disabled list with a sprained right shoulder, Brad Hand and Kevin Slowey have combined to make four starts.
Miami's starters' ERA is a respectable 3.49, ranked 11th in the Majors. For the most part, they are throwing strikes, as their 41 combined walks is in the bottom third of all rotations.
"In my opinion, there is a friendly competition with all of us," Fernandez said. "I love that, because when I pitch good, my teammates, they want to do better. And I want to do better. It's really amazing. We talk a lot about the game, and we help each other a lot."
Despite being three games under .500, and sitting last in the NL East, there is optimism the season can turn quickly in the Marlins' favor because of how the pitching is trending throughout the organization.
At the upper Minor League levels, there are strong starting candidates. Andrew Heaney, rated by MLB.com as the top lefty prospect in the game, has been impressive at Double-A Jacksonville. Heaney could earn a big league promotion as early as June.
At Triple-A, Brian Flynn and Adam Conley are other left-handed options. Anthony DeSclafani, a right-hander at Double-A, could get a call sometime in the second half.
Over the first month, there have been signs of dominance. Loaded with power arms, Marlins are racking up high strikeout totals. Their starters and relievers have punched out 206 batters. Only the 2003 team, which went on to win the World Series, posted more strikeouts (224) in franchise history in March/April. The '14 squad has two more games in April to potentially set a new mark.
"I think when you have good stuff, and power stuff, you have the ability to get strikeouts," Hill said. "With really the top four guys, you've got above-average fastballs and plus stuff. That gives you the opportunity to get a lot of swings and misses."
Fernandez and Eovaldi are among the top five starting pitchers in the Majors when it comes to fastball velocity average. According to Fangraphs.com, Eovaldi ranks third (95.9 mph), while Fernandez is fifth (95.5).
The Marlins have used the Draft and a few trades to assemble their rotation.
Fernandez was the club's No. 1 pick in 2011, and Koehler is becoming a steal as the 18th-round pick in 2008.
Eovaldi was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Hanley Ramirez trade in July 2012. After the '12 season, Alvarez came to Miami in the blockbuster trade with Toronto.
Slowey made the team as a non-roster invitee, and lefty Brad Hand was a second-round pick in 2008.
"I think everybody is starting to understand their abilities, and are not so much worrying about other people's abilities," Koehler said. "We're not worrying about if one guy is going out there throwing 99 [mph], and being happy with what you're able to do."
The Marlins opened themselves up to scrutiny in the offseason, when they decided to go with their collection of young arms instead of exploring the market for a free agent or make a trade for a more experienced starter. The club felt its best options were already on the roster.
It was a group decision, made after input from the front office, manager Mike Redmond and pitching coach Chuck Hernandez.
"I think there was trust in our evaluation," Hill said. "I think there was a lot of knowledge and experience on our coaching staff and in our front office. As we entered the offseason and started our planning, there were tough decisions and frank discussions. If there was not a belief from the dugout to the front office that these weren't the right guys, then we would have gone out to try to find whatever we needed.
"But as an organization, we felt like we had the right group, the right guys, and the right people leading those guys to help get them over that hump and hopefully get us where we want to be."