The one aspect of the Miami Marlins' 2013 season thus far is that the starting rotation and pitching staff in general has performed admirably. The Marlins' 4.07 ERA is a mediocre-but-respectable 17th in the majors, while their 4.05 FIP is a similarly-ranked 19th. The Marlins' starters also have a 4.07 ERA, and they have done so while being handicapped. The Fish have lacked the majority of whom they expected to be in their starting rotation. Ricky Nolasco has been the bedrock, and he has so far had a resurgent campaign (3.69 ERA, 3.66 FIP). Jose Fernandez has been a surprise in terms of just how effective he has been as a 20-year-old rookie, but he figures to be a part of this rotation for years to come.
But the rest of the rotation has had question marks. Kevin Slowey made the roster over Jacob Turner, and results for him have slowly been on the decline. Wade LeBlanc and Alex Sanabia have made the majority of the remaining starts, and their combined numbers have yielded 90 2/3 innings of a 5.36 ERA and 5.55 FIP. Tom Koehler has made four respectable starts, but he may be better served in the bullpen where he can better rack up strikeouts.
Koehler may yet yield a decent starter, but the Marlins have their eyes on better prospects for their rotation in the future, and by the end of June or July, the Fish figure to once again have a very nice starting rotation. Jacob Turner made a return start in the Marlins' 5-1 victory of the New York Mets on Friday, and he was spectacular in his performance. Turner may be turning into a new type of pitcher, but the move may be even better for the Marlins if they are looking for Turner to have a higher ceiling. If he continues to work on his game and better controls his pitches, Turner could become a key to success for this Marlins roster.
But Turner is not the only returning Marlin who was a key to success before the season. Nathan Eovaldi was also considered a key to success, but a preseason shoulder injury sidelined him on the 60-day disabled list. Eovaldi made his first rehab start this past Saturday, and he had a successful outing amid a great day for the Marlins' farm system. Eovaldi threw five innings and allowed two runs with one strikeout and two walks for High-A Jupiter. While the numbers themselves were not good, it was encouraging to see Eovaldi throwing in the first place. Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post reports that the timetable could have Eovaldi returning to the majors on June 9.
The return of these two pitchers almost completes the rotation the Marlins expected at the beginning of the season. The only pitcher expected at the start who is still out is Henderson Alvarez, whose shoulder injury will likely keep him out until the All-Star break. Alvarez was to begin a rehab stint earlier than Eovaldi, but discomfort kept him out further.
Still, the Marlins are almost set to have the rotation they initially expected in 2013. The team was supposed to test Turner, Eovaldi, and Alvarez to see which of these three pitchers would have roles supporting future ace Fernandez in the Marlins' rotation. After a series of setbacks, the Marlins will finally get a chance to do that, and they will do so replacing some terrible performances from guys like LeBlanc and Sanabia, who have no real future with the organization. Rather than wasting major league time on unimportant players, the Marlins will now get to evaluate their best young starters and work on their kinks and difficulties in this lost 2013 season.
The Marlins also get to boast a significantly better starting rotation than they have had. With Nolasco performing well and Fernandez proving himself to be major-league ready, the Fish will have a set a of five who will all be at least close to league average, and they should have them by at worst the middle of June. Slowey may be the worst of all of the pitchers, as he has begun to regress on his home run allowance, but Slowey as your fifth starter seems appropriate for a typical major league rotation. Turner and Eovaldi should both perform at around a 4.20 ERA level, while Nolasco and Fernandez can maintain a sub-4.00 rate.
When the trade deadline rolls around, Alvarez should be ready to pitch for the Fish once again, and the Marlins can conveniently open up a rotation spot by trading one of their two veteran pitchers. Nolasco has performed well enough to fetch more of a return than the Fish could have ever hoped for before, and the team can slot Alvarez into his spot and pitch Slowey as their fifth starter until the end of the season.
Once the Marlins reach 2014, the team can make a decision on whom to keep in the rotation among the four pitchers available. They may also have additional internal options for their fifth starting spot, from Brian Flynn (who has had a spectacular start to his 2013 season), Adam Conley, Andew Heaney, and Koehler among others. The combination of the recent Marlins trades and the team's surprising pitching depth from the last few drafts have given the club a lot of options, and it seems as though the Marlins' rotation will start looking much better faster than expected.