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Miami Marlins' pitching depth tested by recent injuries

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The Miami Marlins traded a number of starting pitchers in order to improve their starting lineup, but with three starters down to injury, the Fish's depth is being tested.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins looked at their roster this past offseason and saw a team with decent pitching depth, both in the majors and the minors. Once you included Jose Fernandez returning by midseason, the Fish were stacked five-deep with close to league-average players everywhere, from All-Star Henderson Alvarez down to the surprising Tom Koehler and the disappointing (but promising) Nathan Eovaldi. The minors were also filled with decent starting prospects, led by top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney. Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, and Jose Urena were also pitchers who were ready or would be ready by the end of the 2015 season likely.

It was understandable, then, that the Fish opted to trade starting pitching for a chance to improve their roster. They traded Eovaldi to the New York Yankees, receiving David Phelps and Martin Prado as part of the deal. They dealt DeSclafani to get Mat Latos over. Finally, they traded Andrew Heaney and a number of other players for Dee Gordon and received Dan Haren along the way. On the surface, the team received a pitcher in each deal, but it is very likely they downgraded on two of those deals. Phelps has been the Marlins' best starter thus far this season, but that has mostly been because he has yet to allow a home run this year. His fly ball-inducing ways are not likely to continue that pattern. Haren has gotten away with allowing solo home runs, but his strikeout rate is the lowest it has ever been and he is putting up an unsustainable .253 BABIP. Meanwhile, Eovaldi is struggling in Yankee Stadium but has a better component stats than Phelps, while Heaney has posted nine strong starts in Triple-A for the Angels.

That would not be a significant issue had Miami not gone through three injuries to their starting pitchers in a mater of a week. Alvarez is out with a shoulder injury, the same shoulder that kept him out before his last start. He ran out of steam in the sixth inning and was eventually tended to. The plan is to re-evaluate his shoulder with another MRI, meaning that he could be looking at more significant time away.

The other two injuries appear to be more benign but still landed starters on the DL. Jarred Cosart got a viral infection and developed vertigo secondary to acute labyrinthitis. The condition is self-limited and goes away with the viral infection, but needless to say, there is no way he can pitch if he is still having vertiginous symptoms. Meanwhile, Latos is out with left knee inflammation. This is the same knee that gave him problems last year, so this is mildly concerning, but the consensus appears to be that he will return when he is first eligible.

The Marlins called up Andre Rienzo and Vin Mazzaro to help out in the bullpen, and it is very likely the team will turn to Brad Hand to make one start. Rienzo has been a starter before, and he has been stretched out in Triple-A New Orleans. With three Marlins out of the rotation, you would expect he will be asked to make a start along with Hand. Mazzaro has not started regularly since 2011.

The Fish have very few options beyond that without dipping into the prospect well. Sam Dyson used to start, but he last started regularly in 2013 and has been one of the two top bullpen pitchers on the roster to start the year. No other minor league starters are realistically available. If Alvarez stays out for a significant amount of time, will the Fish consider turning to Nicolino or Urena?

Of the two starters, chances are Miami will turn to Nicolino first. Marlins brass is high on the team's 2015 Organizational Pitcher of the Year, despite the fact that his strikeout results have been declining dangerously since 2013. That trend has not abated this season, as he is posting just a 13.5 percent strikeout rate in 54 innings in Triple-A. Urena had a rough couple of bullpen outings and, while he has the better numbers in New Orleans (1.21 ERA, 3.85 FIP versus 2.15 ERA, 4.19 FIP for Nicolino), the Marlins think less of him as a prospect.

The hope is that Alvarez's shoulder is not a significant problem and that Latos and Cosart return shortly, but with prior injury histories to the same areas for Alvarez and Latos, there should be some concern. Miami may have to turn to a depleted prospect group ahead of expected schedule.