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Miami Marlins looking at competition for rotation spot once injured starters return

The Miami Marlins are likely to evaluate a few players for the final rotation spots once Jose Fernandez and Jarred Cosart return to the Major League roster.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are only guaranteeing one thing in the rotation once injured starters Jose Fernandez and Jarred Cosart eventually come off the disabled list: Fernandez will make his scheduled July 2 start against the San Francisco Giants barring any setbacks. As a result, he will join the rotation without question.

The rest is up in the air.

Cosart finished his latest rehab start in Triple-A New Orleans and pitched reasonably effectively, but the Marlins are uncertain what to do with him next. They are not guaranteeing that Cosart will return directly to the rotation, thanks in large part to the recent performances of Jose Urena, David Phelps, and Tom Koehler. Manager Dan Jennings is going to discuss this fluid situation with the front office.

Jennings noted that competition may decide who stays and who goes to the bullpen.

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"Competition is a great thing," Jennings said. "If someone is going to take a job, it's one thing. They have to earn it. Urena has pitched very well. I love the competition."

The Marlins may be willing to leave it open to competition to see who will earn that rotation spot. Right now, the five rotation spots are currently held by Urena, Phelps, Koehler, Mat Latos, and Dan Haren. Haren and Latos are presumably not at risk of losing their jobs, if only because both need to be showcased extensively in order for the team to potentially trade one of them at the trade deadline; both starters will be free agents at the end of the year. Once Fernandez returns in July, he will take one of those spots away, likely the spot held by Urena, who gave up two runs but walked four with just one strikeout last night against the New York Yankees.

That leaves Cosart to battle the loser between Phelps and Koehler. Phelps has been the Marlins' best starting pitcher so far this season, so he is unlikely to lose his starting job. The competition between Koehler and Cosart may be the question at hand. Koehler did strike out five Yankees batters versus two walks, yielding just one run in seven innings on Monday. However, he gave up that run on a homer, and he's been giving up significant amounts of home runs recently. His 11 homers allowed so far almost match his season marks from 2013 and 2014. He is also getting fewer whiffs than he had been in the last two years.

Cosart has similar problems in terms of strikeouts and walks, but at least he has a 54 percent ground ball rate to fall back on. Koehler lacks that aspect of the game, which makes him more prone to home runs. Ultimately, swapping Cosart in for Koehler may be the best move once Cosart is ready, and it has an added benefit of shifting Koehler into the bullpen. This may ultimately be the role Koehler settles into for his career, as he was pressed into starting duty only because of Miami's immediate needs in the last two years. It also adds to Miami's nice bullpen depth.

Cosart should probably return to the rotation, but it remains to be seen when that will be. When he and Fernandez get back, the rotation picture should be clearer, and the team can hold down the fort until the whole crew returns when Henderson Alvarez eventually is recovered from his shoulder problems.