The Miami Marlins got a second terrible start out of Brad Hand on Monday night against the Washington Nationals, and it is possible the Fish may look to someone else for Saturday's home start versus the Seattle Mariners. After Hand's three-inning stint against the Nationals on Monday, during which he gave up five runs on eight hits with two strikeouts and a walk to his name, manager Mike Redmond mentioned nothing about the future of that rotation spot for Saturday.
Hand made the team out of Spring Training as a long reliever, but when Jacob Turner went on the disabled list with a right shoulder sprain, Hand took over. Now, the club is weighing what other options may be available for Saturday against Seattle.
"I don't know yet," Redmond said of the rotation spot. "We've got to figure something out."
Just from the sound of it, it appears Miami is poised to replace Hand after just two ugly starts, and I would not be opposed to this. Hand made the roster out of Spring Training with an impressive performance, but prior to that, he had been struggling for the better part of three years since being considered a top Marlins prospect and getting a midseason audition due to injuries in 2011. Since then, Hand has missed time with injury himself, and when he returned, he has not been impressive at the Triple-A level. It is not surprising to see that he is struggling against big-league hitters; so far this year, he has posted a 6.35 ERA and 5.42 FIP with a 17.0 percent strikeout rate and an ugly 11.3 percent walk rate.
The question becomes about who would replace Hand. The first and obvious choice is long reliever Kevin Slowey, who opened last season with the Marlins in the rotation. But Slowey has not impressed thus far this year in relief, posting just a mediocre 4.38 ERA and 4.27 FIP in 12 relief innings. He is capable of better than that, and his skill set has always fit well playing within the deep walls of Marlins Park, but at this stage of his career, we know who Kevin Slowey is. He will generate some strikeouts, is allergic to walks, and gives up home runs like candy on Halloween. The park helps, but he is essentially a guarantee for a 4.20 ERA for the majority of the season.
Who else could the Marlins go for in this spot? There are two advanced minor league prospects currently working in Triple-A. The more likely of the two to arrive in the majors is Brian Flynn, who had a dominant Triple-A season last year and was a candidate to win the fifth starter spot this year. Flynn is on the 40-man roster and could be brought up for a short stint if the Marlins deemed it reasonable. To make room, chances are the Fish would have to demote either Arquimedes Caminero, who earned a promotion but had a few bad innings, or Dan Jennings, who at least still has options. Miami cannot send Hand down unless they expose him to waivers first.
The problem is that Flynn is still struggling in Triple-A through three starts, posting a 5.51 ERA and 4.06 FIP. His strikeout rate is steady from last year's career high, but he is walking more batters as well. He is not as bad as his ERA suggests, but a slow start usually does not lead to a promotion.
The other pitcher is Adam Conley, who has thrown 9 1/3 innings in two starts, mixing in a good one and a bad one in his first shot at Triple-A. Like Flynn, he is walking a few too many guys as well, and unlike Flynn, he is not on the 40-man roster. That leaves the likelihood of seeing him very low.
The most likely scenario is that Miami will turn to Slowey for as many starts as they need until Jacob Turner returns from his shoulder injury. The injury was confirmed as a strain by MRI, meaning that it does not seem serious enough to warrant too much time off. There has been nothing official regarding a potential return, but Joe Frisaro of MLB.com did report that he was scheduled to play catch yesterday.
Jacob Turner (right shoulder strain) expected to play catch Tuesday #Marlins— Joe Frisaro (@JoeFrisaro) April 14, 2014
If it turns out to be worse, it would not be the first time the return from a shoulder injury was delayed. Henderson Alvarez was scheduled to return from his shoulder strain in May of last year and began the rehab throwing process, only to aggravate the injury and only return by midseason. Still, the fact that Turner is throwing lightly is a good sign that the team should not see too much more missed time. He was placed on April 4, meaning the earliest he could return is April 20, but I would not be surprised if he was out at least until a week after that point.
If that's the case, we would expect Turner to miss two more potential starts. I think the Marlins would be willing to see two starts from Kevin Slowey and not bring a prospect up in the short-term. But if Slowey struggles in those two starts and Turner has to stay out longer, expect Miami to turn to Flynn next for an opportunity at the starting rotation.