PHILADELPHIA -- Putting the pitching puzzle together for the Marlins is being done with a purpose and long-term plan. So over the course of the season, look for names to change, perhaps on a regular basis, totally by design.
Not sticking with the same five may appear unconventional, because ideally clubs prefer rotation continuity. But that's not the ground on which the Marlins' are currently standing. They're building, and big part of that process is building up innings for their young starters.
That's partly why Sandy Alcantara, their top-ranked pitcher, is set to start Saturday for Triple-A New Orleans, and is not currently on their staff. That's why Jorge Guzman, whose fastball ranged from 97-102 mph in Spring Training, is at Class-A Advanced Jupiter and not on the 40-man roster.
"I think you're going to see guys moving in and out of the rotation, moving up and down from the big leagues to the Minor Leagues," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "We're doing what's in their best interests and not putting them in a situation where they could potentially be in uncharted waters, in terms of innings limits."
Innings management -- you'll be hearing that a lot this season in Miami.
Currently, Miami's rotation is at four: Jose Urena, Caleb Smith, Dillon Peters and Trevor Richards. Manager Don Mattingly hinted after Thursday's 5-0 loss in Philadelphia that Jarlin Garcia could be sliding into the fifth spot, but that hasn't officially been announced.
With such a young roster, there's been uncertainly regarding how the Marlins' will navigate their rotation through the season. They are doing it in stages.
"The plan totally has September in mind, and getting these guys through the season healthy," Hill said. "That's paramount. Making sure they get through the season healthy, and we continue to develop them as Major League pitchers."
Peters, Garcia and Richards haven't pitched as many as 150 innings of professional baseball at any level. Peters threw 94 1/3 innings in '17, and 128 2/3 in '16. Garcia was in the bullpen a year ago, and threw 50 2/3 innings in the big leagues, with four more at Double-A, while Richards logged 146 innings in '17.
Realistically, Peters and Garcia could finish in the 120-130 innings range, while Richards could go up to 150-160.
The Marlins haven't signed a veteran free agent to help log innings because they feel they have plenty of candidates who will get their chance. Three of them are currently on the 10-day disabled list, and another is on the 60-day.
Dan Straily (right forearm strain) is throwing a bullpen session on Friday, and could be back sometime this month. Elieser Hernandez (tooth infection) is on rehab assignment with Jupiter, and Wei-Yin Chen (left elbow strain) could be back in May.
Brett Graves (left oblique strain) is eligible to come off the 60-day DL on May 28.
The club also is being careful with Hernandez, 22, who threw 73 1/3 innings at Class A Advanced last year. Hernandez throwing about 100 innings would be realistic.
Then, there is the wave of prospects at Triple-A and Double-A Jacksonville, including Alcantara, ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami's No. 3 prospect, and Zac Gallen, rated 14th. The New Orleans staff also has Adam Conley, who has been off-and-on part of Miami's rotation the past few years.
At Double-A are Pablo Lopez (No. 24 prospect), Merandy Gonzalez (No. 16) and Nick Neidert (No. 10).
Alcantara, Gallen, Lopez, and Gonzalez are 22, while Neidert is 21.
In the Cardinals system last year, Alcantara threw 125 1/3 innings in the Minor Leagues and another 8 1/3 in the big leagues, meaning his innings could be around 140-150.
"They're all young guys, and you want to make sure they get built up the right way," Hill said. "You do it in a gradual way, and make sure you're not risking their health in doing so."