Young Marlins starters inspiring each other
Led by Fernandez, rotation putting up stretch of impressive numbers
MIAMI -- Rarely has a loss looked as good as the defeat Nathan Eovaldi took against the Indians on Sunday. The right-hander took a hard-luck loss after allowing just one run in seven innings.
Although the outcome was disappointing, Eovaldi simply added yet another chapter to what has been a tremendous run for the Marlins' starting rotation. Since June 16, Miami's starters rank third in the Majors with a 2.79 ERA.
In a rotation stocked with young arms succeeding so early, Marlins manager Mike Redmond believes the five pitchers bring out the best in each other.
"That's created a great competition between all those starting pitchers," Redmond said. "They're all so young, so talented. It's great that they can push each other. It's great that maybe one of them wants a little bit more notoriety than the other. I like that. I like those guys to want to one-up each other. That's good."
All-Star rookie Jose Fernandez is the standard bearer in Miami's young rotation. The 21-year-old has struck out 27 batters in his past two outings, fanning 13 Pirates in eight innings on July 28 and 14 Indians in eight innings on Friday. He leads all qualified rookie starting pitchers with a 2.54 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, a 3.9 WAR and 138 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings.
Former Marlins manager Jack McKeon believes Fernandez is the team's best pitching prospect during his 10-year relationship with the franchise.
"The guy's mature," McKeon said. "He's been through the mill. He's a gamer. He's a fighter. He's a competitor. He reminds you of an old timer. The guy that was really dedicated. The [Bob] Gibsons, them kind of guys. They took this game seriously and went out there and said, 'Hey, I want to show them I'm good.'"
Henderson Alvarez was not far behind Fernandez in July. Since making his season debut on July 4 after missing the first three months with right shoulder inflammation, Alvarez has shined. He owns a 2.61 ERA in six starts.
Alvarez has been especially impressive in his four most recent starts, sporting a 1.33 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 27 innings. His scoreless-innings streak of 18 ended in his most recent outing, a win against the Mets on Wednesday.
"He doesn't want everyone talking about [Fernandez] and Eovaldi and all these guys," Redmond said. "He wants them talking about him, too. And that's great."
Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez has enjoyed working with Alvarez after the Venezuelan-born hurler's long absence. Hernandez believes pitching in the World Baseball Classic was too much for Alvarez to handle so early in the season.
"It was kind of a setback for him in Spring Training," Hernandez said. "I think it pushed him harder than he needed to be pushed and was ready to be pushed, so that's what led to some soreness, some time off. And now we're getting him back to seeing who he is. I'm learning a lot about him."
Fernandez is the only member of the current rotation that has held his spot since Opening Day. Alvarez, Jacob Turner, Eovaldi and Tom Koehler have since worked their way into the five-man grouping.
Turner spent the season's first two months at Triple-A New Orleans after struggling with his control during Spring Training. However, he has been solid since joining Miami, recording nine quality starts and a 2.68 ERA in 77 1/3 innings.
"He's got a great pitching IQ," Hernandez said in June. "That's what I've learned. He don't talk much. He don't waste a whole lot of words. But when we sit down with the catchers before the game, we go through the lineup real quick and try to establish what we want to do. He's really impressed me. You don't get that a lot from young guys."
Like Turner, Eovaldi has also demonstrated consistency with eight quality starts in nine outings. With a fastball that reached 100 mph in his most recent start, improved work on his other pitches could spell even more success for Eovaldi.
"He's done a great job, and he's got a great arm," Redmond said. "A power arm. His offspeed breaking pitches are still a work in progress, but he's got a fastball that can get anybody out. When he's down in the zone, he can dominate a lineup."
Said Hernandez: "We're still trying to work on command and making sure we're sticking balls in areas we need to."
Even Koehler, who is experiencing an up-and-down season, has joined the fun in recent days. The right-hander outdueled Mets ace Matt Harvey with six scoreless innings in a win on Thursday, stranding several runners on base to preserve the shutout.
Redmond has been particularly impressed with Koehler's maturity and his ability to fight through adversity on the mound.
"He's done a nice job, a really nice job," Redmond said. "He's strong out there."
Former Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell believes Miami has a good thing going with its current starting rotation at a great bargain.
"When you mention those four names, that's pretty good stuff and pretty young and pretty cheap," Lowell said. "I think the hardest thing to find in the game right now is cheap, good, young pitching. The Marlins have a group that has the ability to be really good for a while. How that pans out, we don't know. But the pieces are there."
In a season that has gained its second wind after a dismal 13-41 start, Miami's starting pitching has been the difference. Fernandez, who has seen the best and worst with the Marlins this season, is encouraged by rotation's growth.
"It feels nice," Fernandez said. "Everybody's working hard to get better. It's amazing that everybody's going out there and doing a great job and giving the team a chance to win. That's what matters. That's what's important."