The Miami Marlins' fifth starter options

Could Justin Nicolino be next in line for a rotation spot? - Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins do not need a fifth starter until after the All-Star break, and they just got their last necessary start from Brad Hand until after the break. Who are the pitchers who could step into those two spots?

Miami Marlins starter Brad Hand just finished an outing in which he gave up one run in 6 1/3 innings but suffered through eight hits with only two strikeouts and two walks to his name. He looked unimpressive for a second straight start since returning from injury and taking a spot in the rotation. Needless to say, Hand is not a long-term solution in the starting rotation for a Marlins team trying to compete.

Meanwhile, the Fish demoted a struggling Andrew Heaney back to Triple-A, where he will probably skip a start as part of their plan to stretch him out for the season. Heaney was not pitching great before being demoted, at least in terms of the raw numbers.

That leaves Miami with two spots in the rotation where their pitchers are either absent or currently sub par. Miami wants to remain in the race for the NL East as long as possible, but they sit five games back and need help in those two places in the rotation, among other areas. Luckily for them, they boast tremendous pitching depth in terms of potential back-end starters in their organization, so the Fish have plenty of options right now. Let's go over some of their potential choices.

1. Andrew Heaney

Heaney was demoted, but it was not as though his performance up to his last start was terrible. While the runs allowed were clearly poor, Miami had to be happy with his strong underlying performance before his bad start versus the St. Louis Cardinals. Heaney was sent back to Triple-A, but he is already on the 40-man roster and the team has already used an option on him. He would be a very intelligent first choice for a starter if the team needs someone to take on the fifth spot, since it does not hurt their roster situation or burn any additional options on players. Heaney's numbers in the minors indicate that he has very little left to learn at that level, so promoting him back up after the All-Star break is not out of line.

2. Brian Flynn

Flynn has spent all season in Triple-A after being denied a chance to pitch as the team's fifth starter this season. He was brought up temporarily to serve as extra bullpen help after a series of late-inning games, but his work in the minors has gotten little notice. He has regressed in Triple-A after a dominant season last year, as his 3.62 ERA and 4.34 FIP are impressing no one. Still, he has not had a chance to embarrass himself in the majors yet, which ironically gives him an edge over other starters who have already been promoted.

3. Anthony DeSclafani

DeSclafani probably bought himself some permanent time working in Triple-A after his latest struggles at the big league level. Like Heaney, he struggled with the home run while posting decent strikeout and walk numbers. Unlike Heaney, he does not have the ground ball rate to sustain a good home run total, so this is something he needs to work on going forward.

4. Justin Nicolino

We now move into the Double-A portion of the program. John Sickels of Minor League Ball just did a profile on Nicolino, and he mentioned that the 22-year-old lefty has essentially proven himself at the Double-A level.

Between this year and 2013, Nicolino has now made 27 starts at the Double-A level, with a 3.66 ERA, 3.40 FIP, and a 79/24 K/BB ratio in 155 innings. I don't think the 22-year-old has much left to learn in the Southern League, and if I were the Marlins I'd be looking to move him up to Triple-A soon. The Pacific Coast League will be a challenge for him, but we need to see how his arsenal (88-92 MPH fastball, curve, changeup) works against more experienced hitters.

That does not necessarily mean that he is ready to play in the majors, but Miami has pulled the trigger fast on other players before him. The concern with Nicolino is that his strikeout rate has disastrously fallen, particularly this season. Low walk rates do not translate as well to the big leagues as low strikeout rates do, so Miami should be concerned that his primary control attribute may not work with stiffer competition. Still, Nicolino made the biggest jump with relative ease, so he may be worth a look.

5. Adam Conley

Conley has shown a lack of control in the minors and is just recovering from an elbow injury that cost him two months on the disabled list. His first few games back from injury have been ugly, as he has walked 14 batters and struck out just nine in 18 1/3 innings back from the DL. Again, like Flynn, he has yet to play poorly in the majors, but his performance after the injury has dropped his stock.

Hand will likely get at least another start before he ends up playing his way out of the rotation, and he will only leave if the team has a replacement. Jacob Turner has lost the team's confidence, so do not count on him returning to the rotation.

The trade deadline may also play a role in all of this. Miami saved its pitching depth in case they needed to make a move, and this may be the time to use it to acquire a middle-tier starting pitcher. Unfortunately, the market is drying up after Jason Hammel was dealt, so the Fish may be bargain shopping near the deadline.

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