MIAMI -- Starting-pitching depth is a strength of the Marlins, and in all likelihood, the organization will lean heavily on it in 2021.
A hot topic in team meetings is how to manage the increases in innings in anticipation of a 162-game schedule. And even if a full schedule isn’t played due to the pandemic, in all likelihood the ‘21 season still is expected to greatly exceed the 60-game slate employed this past season.
The challenge this presents to the Marlins is how to map out innings plans for each starter.
“It’s definitely a concern -- not only of mine, but for our whole organization -- as we talk about our young staff,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We’ve walked through some scenarios. Our analytics and our pitching guys, we’re talking about what we think is a doable number of innings.”
For many of Miami’s young starters, this means a preset cap on innings.
“We think there will be some restrictions on a lot of our guys, the number of innings,” Mattingly said. “How do we manage that? That’s all part of the discussions that are on-going, walking into a season. It’s definitely a concern.”
The Marlins used 13 different starters in 60 games in 2020, but the team also made the playoffs, advancing to the National League Division Series.
It also could mean that the Marlins are reluctant to trade from their starting depth, because they may need as much depth as possible. Another possibility is going with a sixth starter, at least on occasion.
Pablo López paced the staff in 2020 with 11 starts, going 6-4 with a 3.61 ERA, and his 57 1/3 innings were tops on the club. He also threw five innings in one playoff appearance.
Sandy Alcantara, the Opening Day starter, made seven starts and logged 42 innings. His season was interrupted after he tested positive for COVID-19. Alcantara is the workhorse and the most tested of their projected starters. The 25-year-old nearly reached 200 innings in 2019, when he finished with 197 1/3. He also tacked on 12 2/3 innings in two playoff starts in '20.
Elieser Hernandez was having a breakthrough season, posting a 3.16 ERA in 25 2/3 innings, before he went on the injured list on Sept. 5 with a strained right lat.
The Marlins have prospect depth in the wings.
Braxton Garrett made two starts and threw 7 2/3 innings. Nick Neidert worked 8 1/3 innings in four relief appearances, and he also projects as a starter. Rule 5 pick Paul Campbell, formerly with the Rays, projects as a reliever, but he could be a spot starter candidate. Jordan Yamamoto had a rough 2020, with an 18.26 ERA in 11 1/3 innings, making him a bounce-back candidate.
Edward Cabrera would have reached the big leagues in 2020 if not for mild right shoulder discomfort. Cabrera, Miami’s No. 6 prospect, has top-of-the-rotation potential, but he hasn’t seen real game action since 2019. The hard-throwing right-hander was part of Miami’s taxi squad in the postseason, and he faced hitters in simulated action. Now, the organization has to figure out what is a realistic innings count for him, since he threw 96 2/3 innings in 2019.
“You always worry about injury,” Mattingly said. “Bumping [pitchers] from a low amount of innings to 190 or 200 is a big jump, especially for young guys who have never been through it. It’s definitely a concern of ours.”