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The Marlins need to be smart and cautious with their incredibly young rotation in 2021

This is an unprecedented challenge for the Marlins organization, coming off an abbreviated season and relying entirely on young starting pitchers.

Tampa Bay Rays v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Despite their inexperience, the Marlins’ starting rotation is as talented and promising as any other. But it’s also as young as any other, and that’s why manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. need to be pretty careful in 2021.

The initial rotation features Sandy Alcántara, Pablo López, Elieser Hernández and Trevor Rogers, with Nick Neidert considered the frontrunner for a call-up once a fifth starter becomes necessary.

That’s an unusually young staff. Each one of them is 25 years old or younger, with Hernández being the oldest (turning 26 on May 3). The Marlins could be in position to tie or break a franchise record that has stood since 2009. That year, the Florida Marlins used a starting pitcher under 27 years of age in 160 of their 162 games (Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Andrew Miller, Aníbal Sánchez, Chris Volstad, among others).

According to baseball researcher Joe Sheehan, the most recent MLB team to rely entirely on under-27 starters was the 2008 Rays.

Miami’s depth options include Sixto Sánchez and Edward Cabrera (once they’re recovered from their respective injuries), Braxton Garrett, Max Meyer, Rule 5 draft pick Paul Campbell and Daniel Castano, the “graybeard” of the bunch who will celebrate his 27th birthday in September. The doors could open for them if the back-end rookies Rogers and Neidert underachieve.

But then there’s the other aspect that’s even more important than record-chasing: health. The Marlins need to acknowledge this is a long season and pitchers aren’t used to more than doubling their workload from year-to-year. As determined as Mattingly and Stottlemyre are to compete, they should not jeopardize the long-term durability of these guys.

In 2020, Marlins’ starters averaged just 4.5 innings per outing, the second-lowest mark in the National League (Braves, 4.2 IP/GS). When it comes to pitches per start, they owned the third-lowest number in the senior circuit (77).

Remember, this is still kind of a development year. Though men like Alcántara and López seem ready to fight, even they are being eased into things gradually. Alcántara was removed on Opening Day after six efficient innings on 83 pitches and López was on Friday after five innings and 77 pitches despite neither of them allowing a run—that was the club’s plan.

Don’t be discouraged by the consecutive losses to begin the schedule: 2021 will be a very interesting year for the Marlins. Their starting pitching is a good reason to keep an eye on them.