Pitching stands out during Marlins' tough 2013
Fernandez puts together Rookie of the Year campaign; Alvarez throws no-hitter
MIAMI -- With mostly rookies and inexperienced players, the Marlins billed 2013 as a transition year.
Other words the organization used to describe what took place were "rebuilding, retooling and reshaping." On occasion, you'd hear the word, "reset."
Whatever you want to call the 2013 season, the bottom line is the youthful squad endured plenty of growing pains. Under first-year manager Mike Redmond, the club used more than 20 rookies, and the inexperience was reflected by the 62-100 record.
The roster overhaul was a direct result of a dismal 2012, when a high-priced, high-profile club ended up losing 93 games. So rather than stay the course with then-manager Ozzie Guillen, dramatic changes were made. Redmond was hired to bring in a new voice and direction. Under trying circumstances, he kept his team together and pushing forward.
Ultimately, it was a rough year. The only Marlins team to lose more games was the 1998 team, which dropped 108. And the only MLB team in 2013 with a worse record was the Astros.
But as often is the case with the unpredictable Marlins, not everything is as it seems. Nothing drives this point home more than the fact that the pitching staff boasted the best ERA (3.71) in franchise history despite the 100-loss season. Defensively, Miami was also pretty respectable. The club's undoing was largely attributed to the least-productive offense in the Majors.
The shortage of bats and repeated losing led to a front-office shakeup at the end of the year. Michael Hill was promoted to president of baseball operations, replacing Larry Beinfest, who was dismissed over the final weekend of the regular season. Dan Jennings was elevated to general manager.
"I think we're going to try to change a few things. We're looking at a 100-loss season," Hill said on the day his appointment was announced. "We need to get better. Bottom line is, we need to win more ballgames. I think the future is bright here.
"We knew this year was a season of transition. People who have had an opportunity to see this team play, they see the talent. They see the young pitching, the position players. We do have work that we need to do, because we aren't where we want to be. We don't want to lose 100 games. We want to get better. The process starts today to make things better."
For all the hardships the team went through, there also were plenty of accomplishments, starting with the pitching. And when it comes to pitching, all conversations start with Jose Fernandez.
At age 20, the hard-throwing right-hander broke into the big leagues without the benefit of previously pitching higher than Class A ball. By July, Fernandez established himself as an All-Star and one of the top overall pitchers in the game. On July 31, Fernandez turned 21, and by September, he was regarded as the top rookie in the National League.
The arrival of a future offensive impact player came in July, when Christian Yelich was promoted from Double-A Jacksonville. The left-handed-hitting outfielder showed flashes of why he is regarded as a .300-caliber hitter.
Adeiny Hechavarria demonstrated athleticism and flare at shortstop, and he earned the praise of his teammates and coaching staff. So did the energetic play of outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who had his season cut short due to left thumb surgery.
From an individual standpoint, there were plenty of highlights. But collectively, the youthful squad never really caught any traction. Its season-high four-game winning streak actually came in the final four games of the season.
Injuries late in Spring Training led to Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez each starting off on the disabled list. Giancarlo Stanton also missed more than a month early due to a right hamstring strain.
The season that had a little bit of everything also had some controversy. A couple of weeks after the All-Star break, hitting coach Tino Martinez resigned amid allegations he was abusive to players.
As has been the case with the Marlins, there always seems to be something out of the ordinary.
Marlins fans saw that early in the year and late. After all, the season opened with the Marlins getting shut out at Washington in each of their first two games. However, the year ended on a high.
On the final day of the season, Alvarez no-hit the Tigers. Even then, the outcome was in doubt. The lone run of the game scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth, giving Miami a walk-off victory, and Alvarez an improbable no-hitter.
There were plenty of twists and turns in a disappointing yet eventful 2013.
MLB.com breaks down the top five storylines:
5. Martinez resigns as hitting coach
The most awkward day of the season came on July 28. After Fernandez struck out 13 in a win over the Pirates, Martinez resigned as hitting coach after it was reported he had incidents of being abusive to players.
For days, the Marlins had hoped to resolve the matter internally, but once the accusations were made public, Martinez handed in his resignation and it was accepted. John Pierson was hired as the interim hitting coach. But the timing was terrible for a young Miami team struggling for runs and looking for stability.
The change occurred when the Marlins were actually showing improvement. After going 14-41 in April and May, the team was on a 26-22 stretch when Martinez resigned.
4. Run support a perpetual problem
Besides Stanton, club officials recognized the roster lacked significant power before the season began. What they didn't expect was for Stanton to miss more than a month due to a hamstring injury and the offense to remain in a year-long slump.
Miami ranked last in the Majors in runs (513), home runs (95) and batting average (.231).
Not only were the numbers significantly low for 2013, they also were some of the worst figures in the history of the franchise. The only year the Marlins scored fewer than 513 runs came in 1994, when they collected 468 in a strike-shortened campaign.
3. Pitchers boast best team ERA
Few could have expected such solid pitching from the Marlins considering the massive turnover from the year before.
The 2012 Marlins featured a rotation of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Carlos Zambrano. Only Nolasco returned to start the '13 season, and he was traded to the Dodgers in July.
Fernandez, Eovaldi and Alvarez became fixtures in the new rotation.
Pitching became the No. 1 strength. The 3.71 ERA is the best in Marlins' history. Previously, the team ERA record was 3.83, set by the World Series-winning 1997 squad.
Closer Steve Cishek also set a club record by converting 29 straight save opportunities.
2. Front-office shakeup
For years, the Marlins have had their share of roster and managerial turnover. But after three straight last-place finishes, it was the front office's turn.
Beinfest, rumored to be on the hot seat in 2012, didn't last the entire season. With three games left, he was dismissed as president of baseball operations. Hill, previously the general manager, was promoted to Beinfest's post.
Several other front-office moves were made. Jennings was promoted to general manager, and the organization has hired more personnel staff.
Beinfest had run the front office since Jeffrey Loria assumed ownership of the Marlins in 2002. In recent years, there had been a divide among the decision makers, prompting the change.
The new regime already has been active in the offseason, signing free agents Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee. At the Winter Meetings, they also traded Logan Morrison to the Mariners for Carter Capps, and dealt Justin Ruggiano to the Cubs for Brian Bogusevic.
1. Fernandez blossoms into best NL rookie
Fernandez's feel-good story was not only the best part of the Marlins' season, it also was one of the more moving sagas in the game.
On the field, the 21-year-old was simply dominating.
Fernandez finished 12-6, and his 2.19 ERA was second in the NL to Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw's 1.83. In Fernandez's 28 starts, the Marlins were 18-10. The right-hander also paced all NL rookies in ERA, strikeouts (187), batting average against (.182) and WHIP (0.98). He also averaged 9.75 strikeouts per nine innings.
The performance earned Fernandez the NL Rookie of the Year Award by a wide margin over Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers.
But his story was so much more than pitching.
Fernandez broke into the big leagues five years after he defected from Cuba and settled in Tampa, Fla. The day before he was named NL Rookie of the Year, he reunited with his grandmother, who was on hand to celebrate his being named the NL's top rookie.