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Starting 5 all lined up for Marlins

@JoeFrisaro
July 20, 2020

MIAMI -- The Marlins’ rotation is falling into line, but manager Don Mattingly still isn’t ready to announce the order after Sandy Alcantara takes the mound on Opening Day on Friday at the Phillies. But Mattingly on a Zoom call on Monday added more clarity about which direction the organization

MIAMI -- The Marlins’ rotation is falling into line, but manager Don Mattingly still isn’t ready to announce the order after Sandy Alcantara takes the mound on Opening Day on Friday at the Phillies.

But Mattingly on a Zoom call on Monday added more clarity about which direction the organization is headed by announcing José Ureña and Pablo López will start on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, in exhibition games at the Braves.

Considering the Marlins are going with a five-man rotation, pitching every fifth day, Ureña is lined up for Game 3 on Sunday at the Phillies, and López would then fall on July 27 in the home opener against the Orioles.

So barring any changes, the rotation projects as Alcantara, left-hander Caleb Smith and Ureña starting in the Phillies series, followed by López and Elieser Hernandez going in the two-game set against the Orioles at Marlins Park.

One reason the Marlins are internally optimistic that they can be a surprise team in the 60-game season is the maturation of their rotation.

“Our guys are going to be in a position to throw 90-100 pitches out of the gate,” pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said in a recent Zoom call. “I can safely say that they are ready for that. Our young guys kept themselves ready.”

Here’s a breakdown on how the Marlins’ starting five project.

Game 1: Friday at Phillies
RHP Sandy Alcantara (2019: 6-14, 3.88 ERA, 32 GS, 197 1/3 innings)

Alcantara has a power two-seam fastball, and a better-than-average changeup. Combine that with a solid slider, and the 24-year-old has the makings of being a legitimate frontline starter. The Marlins say Alcantara’s pure stuff ranks with the best in the game. To reach that elite level will require consistency.

Miami’s lone All-Star in 2019, Alcantara had ground-ball percentage of 44.6 percent, which is among the best of all MLB starters. He induced 23 ground-ball double plays.

What’s encouraging to the organization is the fact Alcantara improved as 2019 went on, posting a 2.59 ERA in six starts and 41 2/3 innings last September.

Game 2: Saturday at Phillies
LHP Caleb Smith (2019: 10-11, 4.52 ERA, 9.86 K/9)

Smith fanned 168 in 153 1/3 innings last year, and his fastball spin rate is in the 84th percentile in the Majors, according to Statcast.

Smith’s advanced spin rate and ability to pitch effectively up in the zone also make him vulnerable to surrendering the long ball. He yielded 33 home runs last year, with 20 of them coming off his fastball, which averaged 91.6 mph. Overall, Smith’s batting average against off his fastball was just .210.

Game 3: July 26 at Phillies
RHP José Ureña (2019: 4-10, 5.21 ERA, 13 games started, 3 saves)

Miami’s Opening Day starter the previous two seasons, Ureña is now striving to reestablish himself in the rotation. The 28-year-old never quite got his season going in 2019. A herniated disk landed him on the 60-day injured list, and when he returned, the club experimented with Ureña as a reliever. He did log three saves in September, but in 10 innings out of the bullpen, he had a 9.00 ERA.

The biggest change Ureña has made since last year is buying into what the coaches are preaching when it comes to using both sides of the plate.

Ureña relies on a power sinker, which averages 95.8 mph. That pitch tends to run in on right-handed hitters and away from lefties. The fact he was so regularly on one half of the plate made him more predictable to hitters, who hit .320 off his sinker.

In the spring and Summer Camp, Ureña has focused more on using his four-seam fastball to the other half of the plate.

Game 4: July 27 vs. Orioles
RHP Pablo López (2019: 5-8, 5.09 ERA, 21 starts)

Staying healthy is key for the 24-year-old, who spent time on the injured list his first two big league seasons due to a right shoulder strain.

The Marlins staff feels López is on the brink of reaching the next level. The right-hander impressed in Summer Camp, and he may have been Miami's best starter in the three-week ramp up to Opening Day.

López has a fastball that averaged 93.6 mph, and a changeup that averaged 85.7 mph. Hitters were .226 off his changeup last year.

Before going on the injured list last June, López had a 4.23 ERA in his first seven starts. In his seven starts after returning, he pitched to a 7.01 ERA.

Game 5: July 28 vs. Orioles
RHP Elieser Hernandez (2019: 3-5, 5.03 ERA, 15 starts, 21 appearances)

Hernandez simply seized the moment and followed up an impressive Spring Training with a strong Summer Camp. The 25-year-old had been used as a starter and reliever.

What the Marlins like about Hernandez is the fact that he’s a strike-thrower. Hernandez logged 82 1/3 innings last year, struck out 85 and walked 26.

The right-hander uses a four-pitch mix, and effectively uses the upper and lower halves of the strike zone. Hitters last year batting .152 against his slider and .178 off his changeup.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.