Throughout the 2020-21 offseason, Fish Stripes is bringing you daily articles as part of the All-Time Marlins Countdown.
Today and every Saturday leading up to Opening Day, I will be a “pinch-hitter” for the Fish Stripes staffers who ordinarily handle this series. These two quality pitchers from the early years of the franchise had Marlins tenures that very briefly intersected.
69. Chris Hammond
The Marlins and Reds have linked up on a handful of notable transactions through the years, the first of which brought Chris Hammond to South Florida shortly before 1993 Opening Day. Third baseman Gary Scott and a player to be named later (right-hander Héctor Carrasco) went back to Cincy in return.
Hammond began his age-27 season in the Marlins rotation and started the third major league game in franchise history, losing to the Dodgers on Apr. 7 despite tossing six decent innings. It took nearly a full month for him to be credited with a winning decision. Coincidentally, that came against his original employer, the Reds, on May 4. That summer, Hammond posted what would prove to be his single-season career-bests in starts, innings and victories.
Hammond’s 1994 season showed extraordinary promise early on. He carried a 1.86 earned run average and 22-inning scoreless streak into his ninth outing. Through the first quarter of the schedule, he, Jeff Conine and Cuck Carr were co-MVPs on a Marlins team that was surprisingly above the .500 mark. Unfortunately, Hammond had to exit his May 21 appearance prematurely due to lower back tightness. He couldn’t recapture the magic for the rest of that season.
There were more high points for Hammond in 1995. He would’ve had an excellent case for NL All-Star recognition if not for a few weeks missed at the beginning of the schedule. Overall, he was responsible for six of the top 14 Game Scores by any Marlins starter, including two complete game shutouts.
Last Saturday’s countdown article included Alex Arias, who I noted was one of only five players who contributed to both the inaugural 1993 Marlins and 1997 World Series champs. Hammond barely missed out on qualifying for that club. The Marlins let him walk in free agency following a miserable ‘96—the 30-year-old lost his starting rotation spot one month into that campaign and wasn’t much better out of the bullpen. Hammond spent ‘97 with the Red Sox, signed with the Royals in ‘98 but got released during spring training, then came back to South Florida for the championship hangover.
It didn’t look like Hammond had a path back to relevance following left elbow surgery. He stepped away from baseball for more than two years. However, he resurfaced in the 2000s as a reliever, first on minor league deals with the 2001 Indians and Braves, then going to Puerto Rico for winter ball reps, next re-signing with the Braves and just barely making their 2002 Opening Day roster.
Hammond pitched exclusively out of the ‘pen for the remainder of his career, but this second act was well worth it. In those 280 regular season innings from 2002-2006, he posted a 2.93 ERA, 3.60 FIP and 3.7 fWAR. He also got to experience the MLB postseason and even pitched against the Fish during the ‘03 Fall Classic.
68. Liván Hernández
A standout performer in the Cuban National Series as a teenager, Hernández defected from Cuba in 1995. Highly sought-after as a free agent, the ubiquitous presence of his countrymen in Miami convinced the right-hander to sign with the Marlins.
Hernández honed his craft with the organization’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates for most of the 1996 season, reaching The Show on Sept. 24. He began 1997 back at Triple-A, but stuck in the bigs permanently beginning on Jul. 19.
There were plenty of interesting individuals on the ‘97 Marlins. However, he was arguably the roster’s star attraction throughout the second half of the regular season. The 22-year-old won his first nine decisions, and during that span, Florida surged from playoff hopeful to the second-best record in the National League. Liván entered September undefeated and the Fish had a firm grasp on the NL Wild Card spot. With a 128 ERA+ in 96.1 IP, Hernández placed second behind Scott Rolen in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting.
After being utilized out of the bullpen in his first two playoff appearances, Hernández got the start against the Braves in a pivotal spot: Game 5 of the National League Championship Series and future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux pitching for the opponent. With a little help from home plate umpire Eric Gregg, he went the distance. Hernández’s 15 strikeouts and 143 total pitches are Marlins postseason records that will probably never be broken.
Like Hammond, Hernández could be dangerous at the plate. These two and Dontrelle Willis are the only pitchers in Marlins history to have a game with four runs batted in (yet another record that’s likely out of reach for future Fish).
Hernández enjoyed brief periods of elite performance in the majors. Overall, though, his legacy is one of durability and craftiness. Beginning in 1998, he made 30-plus starts in 13 consecutive seasons—no other pitcher had more than 11 such seasons during that span. He stuck around long enough to compete at Marlins Park (as a member of the Braves and Brewers) in 2012.
Since then, Hernández has been on amicable terms with the Fish. He participated in the 2017 MLB All-Star festivities in Miami as well as the franchise’s 25th anniversary weekend in 2018.