Henderson Alvarez didn't expect to be the Marlins' ace starting in June. He was slotted into the third spot in the rotation behind Jose Fernandez and Nathan Eovaldi, and became Miami's most consistent starting pitcher since Fernandez went down.
The Marlins are unsure if Alvarez will make another start this season, leaving the Marlins with questions about the rotation with just a month left in the season. Miami is still confident it can make a run at a Wild Card spot, but without a healthy Alvarez, that may be an unrealistic goal.
Since Fernandez made his last appearance on May 9, the Marlins have used six starters that didn’t open the season in the rotation (Anthony DeSclafani, Andrew Heaney, Brad Hand, Brad Pennyand Brian Flynn). Jarred Cosart, who the Marlins acquired from the Astros on July 31, essentially took Jacob Turner’s spot, so we won’t count him.
The aforementioned six have made 27 starts and are a combined 5-15 with a 5.72 ERA. The Marlins in those games are 10-17. Making that record all the more disappointing is that the upper level starting pitching depth was among the Marlins’ purported organizational strengths.
Miami was thought to have one of the best minor league systems in terms of starting pitching, however even without Fernandez, the young arms that were heralded prospects have had difficulty becoming solid major league starters.
DeSclafani has struggled in his few major league starts, posting a 7.57 ERA and 4.15 FIP in 27.1 innings. He was not expected to be an Andrew Heaney-type prospect, but he was thought to be a back of the rotation arm and has had difficulty finding the strike zone after seeing time in Triple-A and with the Marlins.
With Fernandez out for the season, the Marlins first decided to promote Heaney because there was a need. Miami had been rotationally situated until Alvarez has had difficulty staying healthy, and with their second best arm (statistically) uncertain about returning this season, the Marlins may once again turn to Heaney.
Jarred Cosart has pitched well, but Brad Hand was pushed to the bullpen and Brad Penny lasted just three innings in Tuesday night's 8-6 loss to the New York Mets. Manager Mike Redmond said he is unsure if Penny would make another start, however given the lack of success over just a few starts, Redmond would likely be better off getting a younger arm experience.
Heaney, DeSclafani, Hand, and Brian Flynn are all candidates to be slotted into the rotation if Alvarez's injury is serious or if Penny is moved back to the bullpen.
"We’ve tried to find somebody to step in that role and take that spot and it’s been quite a challenge," manager Mike Redmond said, after watching Penny last three innings against the Mets Tuesday. "We’ve tried I don’t even know how many guys.
There are few pitchers in all of baseball who can step into an adverse situation and pitch at Fernandez's level, making such an expectation unreasonable. Alvarez had been doing it, but with inexperienced arms, Miami may have to look more towards the future when it comes to the rotation.
Following a losing road trip, the Marlins refused to count themselves out. But if the rotation continues to be inconsistent and the bullpen gets called upon on almost a nightly basis, Miami's playoff odds are slim and the organization may have to reevaluate starting pitching options at the end of the season.
Considering the Marlins have yet to make Stanton an offer he has considered, he has no reason to be incredibly optimistic. And Stanton's true thought process may not be revealed until the offseason, when Miami will try and keep him in South Florida long term.