MIAMI -- Piecing together the pitching staff hasn't been an easy task for Marlins general manager Kim Ng during the first two months of the regular season, in particular with top arms like top prospect Sixto Sánchez unavailable. It has been a balancing act of looking out for what's best for the organization in the present versus the future.
Sánchez, who was expected to open the season in the big league rotation before a couple of setbacks in Spring Training (visa issue, false positive COVID-19 test), then experienced discomfort during a simulated game on March 31. At the time, he was building up his pitch count at the alternate training site in preparation of joining the club on its first road trip. Since then, it has been a slow process as Sánchez works back from right shoulder inflammation. From this week's update, the rookie has continued throwing long toss at 120 feet as part of his rehab program in Jupiter, Fla.
"He's a young arm," Ng told a small group of reporters on Saturday afternoon at loanDepot park. "We're in this for the long haul. It's not just about sort of getting him back as quick as we can. Obviously we all want that, but this is really about what he means to this organization, and what this means to his career. We have been cautious with him, but look at what he represents for us. We have to treat these guys with great care.
"We're early in the season, and the way we look at some of this, if we get Sixto back with however much time, he's a great acquisition during a time when other clubs are trading three and four prospects to get that type of guy added to their staff. For us, again, the idea that anywhere from one to five in a great staff, he can step in. [To] add that type of pitcher during that time is going to be a huge add for us."
The 22-year-old right-hander showcased his electric stuff across seven regular-season starts in 2020, recording a 132 ERA+. He followed that up with five scoreless innings in his first of two playoff outings. According to Statcast, his chase rate was in the 96th percentile and his four-seam fastball averaged 98.5 mph.
But Sánchez has a injury history dating back to his time with the Phillies, so it's no surprise the Marlins are handling their prized asset with care -- something they have done since he joined the organization. The same level of caution is being used with fellow top 100 prospect Edward Cabrera, who came to big league camp this spring with an inflamed nerve in his right biceps. The 23-year-old righty was scheduled for a 20-pitch live batting practice on Saturday. Last season, he likely would've made his MLB debut had it not been for a minor arm issue.
With all of this in mind, manager Don Mattingly compared the difficulty of piecing everything together to that of walking a tightrope. The Marlins have four starting pitchers on the 40-man roster -- Sánchez, Cabrera, Elieser Hernandez and Jorge Guzman -- rehabbing injuries. Filling out the final two spots have been a mix of Daniel Castano, Nick Neidert, who was working out with the club on Saturday but not on the active roster, Cody Poteet and Paul Campbell (suspended).
"There have been a good number of guys that have stepped out not necessarily on the roster," Ng said. "Right now with where our roster is, we really feel that we've got the depth. We've still got Castano down here, we've got Neidert, we had [Jordan] Holloway who's now up here. These are good things. These guys are still in their cycles of development. Every time they come up here, and they get out there on that mound, it's information for them, it's feedback for them. They have a better understanding of what they need to do when they go down, know what they need to do when they come back up here. Each time we hope that they'll be more ready."
That shuffling continued less than 12 hours after the club used 10 pitchers -- second most in franchise history. The Marlins placed Holloway, who was supposed to get the bulk of the work in Friday's 6-5, 12-inning loss to the Mets, on the 10-day injured list with a right groin strain. In order to provide length, Miami selected the contract of left-hander Shawn Morimando from Triple-A Jacksonville. Miami transferred Hernandez to the 60-day IL as the corresponding roster move.
Hernandez, who exited his April 3 start with right biceps inflammation, is eligible for activation on June 3, when the Marlins are in Pittsburgh. Scheduled for his second rehab start on Sunday, this timeline falls in line with two more outings before joining the club.