You may think you don’t know Juan Carlos Oviedo, but we used to know him as Leo Nunez, closer extraordinaire for the Marlins from 2009 through 2011. Born on March 15th, 1982 in Bonao, Monsenor Nouel, Dominican Republic, he wasn’t drafted, but signed on with the Pittsburgh Pirates through free agency in 2000. A 6’2”, 195 lb. right-handed pitcher, he toiled away in the Pirates’ minor league system for four seasons before they traded him to the Kansas City Royals for Benito Santiago and cash. It was with the Royals that he would eventually make it to the major leagues.
Nunez got to the Kansas City parent club in 2005, and pitched four seasons with the team, mostly as a reliever. In 106 contests, he went 9-7 with a 4.92 ERA, 102 whiffs in 159.0 innings, and a 1.415 WHIP. Just after the 2008 campaign, the Royals sent him off to Miami for 30-homer man Mike Jacobs.
While part of the Kansas City team, Nunez earned exactly zero saves. In his first season with Florida, he earned 26, despite not earning his first until May 30th, in a 7-3 Marlins win over the New York Mets. In that game, Nunez came on with two out and two runners in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth inning, then struck out Mets’ right fielder Fernando Martinez to end the threat. He posted a 4-6 overall record with a 4.06 ERA and a 5.16 FIP, indicating that he benefitted quite a bit from steallar fielding over his 68.2 innings pitched. He racked up 60 strikeouts with a 1.252 WHIP to his credit. He allowed zero baserunners in 29 of his 75 overall appearances, with 22 of those appearances lasting a full inning. Commensurate with his role on the team, the Marlins posted a 56-19 record in his games, versus a 31-56 record when he remained in the bullpen.
On June 13th, Nunez relieved Dan Meyer with a 6-5 lead over the Toronto Blue Jays with two out and two on in the bottom of the seventh, then induced a Kevin Millar groundout to end the inning. He struck out two to get through the eighth as well, as the Marlins eventually prevailed with the score unchanged. On July 17th, in an eventual 6-5, 12-inning loss to the Philles, Nunez struck out three Philadelphia batters over two innings of extra inning relief work.
2010 would see Nunez firmly ensconced as Florida’s closing pitcher, and he collected an NL-sixth 30 saves through the season. He was perfect in 25 of his 68 appearances, and struck out 71 batters over 65.0 innings, for the first time finishing with over a strikeout per inning. He had a 4-3 record, a 3.46 ERA (underwritten with an even more impressive 2.86 FIB), a 1.212 WHIP and a career best 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. The Marlins, 30-64 when Nunez didn’t play, compiled a 50-18 record in his appearances.
Nunez didn’t allow an earned run, or any sort of run really, until his 11th appearance of the season, on May 4th. He only allowed two hits and struck out 10 over his first 10.1 innings, going 1-0 with four saves. On three occasions, he struck out the side, including July 22nd, when he earned his fourth win of the season, a 3-2 victory against the Colorado Rockies.
Nunez collected a career high 36 saves in 2011, ranking eighth in the National League. He went 1-4 with a 4.06 ERA, a comparable 3.96 FIP, a career-best 1.212 WHIP, and 55 whiffs over 64.1 innings pitched. Florida went 50-18 with Nunez pitching and 22-72 when they left him in the pen. He inherited 17 runners through the season, and allowed only two to score.
Nunez’ 92 total saves while with the Marlins rank him fourth on the all-time leaderboard, two behind third place Steve Cishek, 10 behind second place Antonio Alfonseca, and 16 behind franchise leader Robb Nen. After the 2011 season, Nunez revealed that his name, “Leo Nunez” was an alias, and was operating under a calculated deception in order to recieve a larger contract as a younger man. And so, he changed his name to his given name, Juan Carlos Oviedo, around the same time that the Marlins changed their name from Florida to Miami.
Nunez didn’t appear in the majors again in 2012 with the Marlins, appearing in three games between the New Orleans Zephyrs and the Jupiter Hammerheads on a rehab assignment after serving an eight-week suspension. After that seasons’ campaign, he was granted free agency, and signed on with the Tampa Bay Rays. He made it back to the big leagues in 2014, going 3-3 with a 3.69 ERA, a 1.358 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts in 31.2 innings.
Check back later for the number 79 Marlin on the list, an All Star catcher.