Marlins starting pitching serves as a solid foundation

If there’s one thing to feel good about the Marlins this season it’s their starting pitching.

The Marlins are one of three teams in baseball to have used only five starting pitchers so far this season. The other two are the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals.

The last time the Marlins went so far into the season before throwing out a sixth starter was in 2012, the inaugural season of Marlins Park.

The 2012 Marlins, also debuting new uniforms trotted out a rotation consisting of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Carlos Zambrano. The Marlins gave up after a horrid June and traded Hanley Ramirez to the Las Angeles Dodgers for Nathan Eovaldi, who became the sixth starter on the 100th game of the season.

Just before this season opener, the Marlins released Dan Straily and moved Wei-Yin Chen to the bullpen, making way for Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Richards and Caleb Smith to go along side with Jose Urena.

Their faith has been rewarded so far, as they are the lone rock solid foundation in an otherwise painful rebuilding project.

All have had their moments of ups and downs but the one starter to have take the next step is Smith. He was acquired with Garrett Cooper in a trade with the New York Yankees for pitching prospect Michael King. He struck out eight batters in 5.1 innings of work against the Tampa Bay Rays in his recent outing. It was his sixth start this season with eight strikeouts or more. Only Washington Nationals starters Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer (seven each) and Gertie Cole of the Houston Astros (eight) have more. All of his starts this year has resulted in at least six strikeouts, which is the most in franchise history in terms of opening a season.

The Marlins young staff was put on display in their series sweep over the New York Mets, a rival that they seemingly look to replicate. They completed their first series sweep since September of 2017 on the heels of Alcantara’s 89-pitch complete game shutout with eight strikeouts. It was the first of his career.

“I felt great,” Alcantara said. “I felt like a superstar about my complete game.”

The two teams had a home-and-home series within the same week. Lopez had the worst start of his career at New York and followed it up with one of the best start of his career. Lopez is the second pitcher since 1913 to allow 10+ hits and runs in one start and respond with 7+ innings with one hit or less. His seven innings and seven strikeouts tied a career high and was a complete about face after allowing a career-high 10 runs in three innings in his last start on May 10 in New York.

“I just thought it was going to be an interesting game,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I thought the storyline was good for him and to see how he was going to react. These are moments in guys’ careers where you find out a lot about guys. To bounce back out of that one and to face the same team the next outing, I think it tells a lot about Pablo., and that’s what we were really looking to find out about (Saturday).”

In fact, since that disaster in the Big Apple, each starter in the rotation went the full cycle without allowing more than three runs. Their sweep over the Mets came after being swept by the first place Tampa Bay Rays in two games despite only giving up a total of five runs. Both Smith and Urena gave up only a run each during their outings.

This is pretty much why the Marlins’ poor start has been frustrating. They expected improvement. It felt like it was going to take place after an impressive spring. The fact that they have the worst record in baseball despite being 12th overall in runs allowed reveals the anchor that’s holding them down.

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