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Rotation key element for Marlins going forward

MIAMI -- Steady and sometimes spectacular fielding plays earned Mark Buehrle his fourth consecutive Gold Glove Award.

What shouldn't be overlooked is the impact Buehrle made with his arm -- the veteran left-hander paced the Marlins in wins (13) and innings pitched (202 1/3). A stabilizing presence, Buehrle is a big part of Miami's rotation. And he projects to be so in the future.

Coming off a last-place finish in the National League East, the Marlins understand the importance of solidifying their rotation if they are to again become a winning franchise.

Barring any trades, the Marlins project to have Josh Johnson, Buehrle and Ricky Nolasco anchoring their top three spots. The back end includes promising prospects Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi.

"If me, Ricky and J.J. go out there and do what we've done before, eat up innings and give us quality games, we should be all right," Buehrle said. "Then, if Turner and Eovaldi keep on progressing and getting better, I think we're going to have a pretty good rotation."

In a frustrating 69-93 season, the Marlins didn't have much to celebrate. But for all that went wrong, plenty went right in regards to the starting pitching. The desired results may not have always been there, but they stayed healthy and, for the most part, went deep into games.

Miami's starting pitchers ranked sixth overall in the NL in innings pitched, with 982 1/3. Four of the five teams who threw more innings had winning records, and three of them -- the Reds, Giants and Cardinals -- made the playoffs. The other club, the Phillies, finished at .500, 81-81.

Buehrle, Johnson and Nolasco each threw more than 190 innings, and all three made 31 starts.

Durability was a big part of the rotation. The Marlins went with their same five until the 100th game of the season, when Eovaldi replaced Anibal Sanchez, who was traded to the Tigers on July 23.

The stretch of 99 games was the furthest the Marlins had gone into a season before using a sixth starter. It also was the second-longest stint in the Major Leagues this year, topped only by the Reds, who had all five in their rotation reach 30 starts.

Previously, the Marlins' franchise long for not needing a sixth starter was 87 games in 2010.

Of course, the rotation had its share of inconsistencies. Carlos Zambrano had issues with command, and he eventually was replaced.

Johnson, the ace of the staff and a two-time All-Star, had his struggles, posting an 8-14 record with a 3.81 ERA. While the dominance he showed in the past wasn't there, the right-hander did stay healthy, and he threw 191 1/3 innings.

In 2011, Johnson missed more than four months with right shoulder inflammation, so the healthy season was encouraging. Regaining his sharpness took time.

The encouraging sign was that Johnson's second-half numbers improved. Although he was 3-9 after the All-Star break, his ERA was 3.53, compared to 4.06 in the first half. And his WHIP was 1.15, after reaching 1.39 before the break.

Johnson will be entering the final season of his four-year contract, and he is set to make $13.75 million in 2013. There is speculation he could be traded, but it would take a very attractive offer to move one of the most respected and successful players in franchise history.

Like Johnson, Nolasco will be entering the final year of his contract. The 29-year-old also had his ups and downs, going 12-13 with a 4.48 ERA. Nolasco also ate up innings, throwing 191 in his 31 starts.

Nolasco is the Marlins' all-time wins leader, posting a 76-64 career mark to go with a 4.49 ERA.

Buehrle is the lone left-hander in the rotation, with Wade LeBlanc as the other southpaw on call to start if necessary.

LeBlanc is versatile and valuable in any role. He made nine starts for Miami in 2012, along with 16 relief appearances.

In Buehrle, Miami has one of the most dependable starters in the game. He has a string of 12 straight years with at least 10 wins, 200 innings and 30 starts.

Turner, 21, has tremendous upside. The right-hander made great strides down the stretch of his rookie season, and he had a 3.38 ERA in seven starts, with a WHIP of 0.99.

Eovaldi, 22, is a hard thrower who is dealing with command issues. Acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Hanley Ramirez trade, Eovaldi walked 47 in 119 1/3 innings. But if his last three starts are any indication, he has great potential. In those three games, Eovaldi struck out 20 in 20 innings, including a career-high eight at Atlanta on Sept. 25.

"Obviously, health is going to be an issue again, like it always is," Buehrle said of the rotation. "With Turner and Eovaldi, and the stuff that they have, I can see it getting brighter and brighter for them in the years to come. They both are outstanding pitchers."

Miami Marlins, Mark Buehrle, Nathan Eovaldi, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Jacob Turner