Tonight, the Miami Marlins will embark on a four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Fish sit four back of the Brewers in the Wild Card race and an additional half game behind the current second Wild Card leader, the Pittsburgh Pirates. If there is any chance (slim as it may be) for the Marlins to make the playoffs, the next four games will be critical. Time is running out.
The Fish have already announced the starters for the series, and tonight's first game will pit Yovani Gallardo versus Brad Penny. Penny is slated to make his fourth start for the Fish, and none of the first three or any of his 16 1/3 innings up to this point have gone well. The sample size is extremely small, but the results are on the extremely bad side; he owns a 6.61 ERA and a 4.66 FIP, and that fielding-independent number is only that good because he has given up just one home run thus far. Penny has walked 10 batters and struck out just nine along the way, and it is not as though his stuff has been better than those numbers, as his fastball is at its slowest of his career.
Penny is 36 years old, has not been a big-league rotation regular for over three years, and has had three disastrous starts. So naturally the Marlins will turn to him again tonight in a critical game.
This would not be so bad, but the Fish have better options than Penny available. First and foremost on that list is 22-year-old top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, who was recalled by Miami during the September roster expansion but has yet to throw a pitch for the Fish. Heaney has languished on the roster as an unused bullpen reliever for five days, some of which included his natural days off between starts. But one rotation go-around after Penny's latest poor start, a three-inning outing against the New York Mets in which he gave up four runs on two strikeouts and one walk, and you would think the Marlins would entrust the younger, more promising pitcher.
Instead, the Marlins will turn to the gritty veteran who has shown nothing thus far. At least Heaney had promising signs in his four Major League starts, with a decent swinging strike rate thanks to an impressive wipeout slurve offering. Sure, there were definite issues with command, which was surprising given Heaney's pedigree. But what is Miami losing by trying to see if his performance has improved with a second minor league stint? Heaney at this point has clearly better stuff than Penny, and Penny has not necessarily shown the veteran fortitude to recover from poor starts, as he is still having them entering his fourth start and sixth appearance overall. Penny is not missing bats (91 percent contact rate), not hitting the strike zone like he has in the past (48 percent zone percentage), and he has not exactly been fortunate on balls in play either (.358 BABIP). What is Miami waiting for?
This points again to a lack of intelligent decision-making from the Marlins. The team has twice turned to former Marlins three times in the last two years in order to fill roles on cheap deals. In the cases of Juan Pierre, Kevin Gregg, and Penny, the Fish trusted their "veteran" quality to carry them beyond their talent level, and recognized that this was not feasible far too late. None of those signings were good, and the results have shown that, but someone on the Marlins, whether it is the front office or Mike Redmond and his staff, is far too trusting of grit over youthful talent.
In 2013 with Pierre, it did not matter, as Miami had tanked the season before it began. In Gregg, it never really bit the Fish, as he was a reliever and got hurt before he could do too much damage. But Penny is pitching what are supposed to be meaningful games for the Fish, while the team wastes a talented pitcher like Heaney in the bullpen. Even if the difference between the odds are not very large (probably a bit more than half a win at most over four starts), the team's preference shows poor decision-making and a lack of a merit-based system in Miami. Heaney struggled through 20 innings with Miami in midseason and was given no quarter. Penny's leash has been huge despite several poor performances. How can young players expect to earn a spot over a struggling veteran in a situation like this?
Miami will probably not make the playoffs with Heaney or Penny on the mound tonight or going forward. But this sends the wrong message to the young players on the Fish, who are the exact guys this team will depend upon in the coming years.