As injuries hit Marlins’ starting pitching, rookies take advantage of opportunity

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When the Miami Marlins placed Trevor Rogers on the 10-day injured list Saturday after the All-Star rookie dealt with a bout with lower back muscle spasms, manager Don Mattingly’s options for his starting pitching rotation immediately became slim.

Within a span of eight days, each of the team’s top three starting pitchers had been removed from the active roster. Pablo Lopez was first on July 17, heading to the IL with a right rotator cuff strain before making a start on the back half of the All-Star Break. Sandy Alcantara followed, being placed on the bereavement list on July 20 — the day before he was scheduled to make his 21st start of the season. And then Rogers the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, landed on the IL for the first time in his big league career.

Add in the previous injuries to Elieser Hernandez (on the 60-day IL for the second time this year) and Sixto Sanchez (season-ending shoulder surgery before throwing a pitch in a live game), and the Marlins for the first time this year were without any of their projected Opening Day starting pitchers.

Nine of Miami’s 11 starts since returning from the All-Star Break have been made by players not named Alcantara, Rogers or Lopez. Four of those games have been bullpen days. The other four have been made by rookies, two apiece by Zach Thompson and Braxton Garrett and one by Nick Neidert.

While the Marlins are hopeful to have a full-strength rotation at some point as this season heads down to its final two months — Alcantara is back on the mound Tuesday when the Marlins face the Baltimore Orioles to open a two-game road series — the opportunity for their top pitching prospects to get regular reps is a silver lining.

Garrett and Neidert, for example, have bounced between the big leagues and Triple A Jacksonville all season, joining the MLB club when the team needs a pitcher to make a spot start or be an emergency pitcher out of the bullpen. Results in terms of stats have been mixed. The importance are the reps, the chance for the breakthrough moment and the chance for the organization to evaluate the players at the highest level they can.

“Just looking for them to continue to grow,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, “and just knowing that they’ve kind of learning on the fly and learning in the big leagues. Sometimes those lessons are good. Sometimes, they’re not near as much fun.”

The results? Overall, they have been pretty good.

Thompson has a 3.00 ERA over nine innings in his two starts (three earned runs allowed in nine innings) with five strikeouts against three runs while allowing eight hits. Garrett has a 3.18 ERA in his two starts (four earned runs allowed in 11 1/3 innings) and had the best start of his young MLB career on Saturday when he recorded 10 strikeouts over seven innings against the San Diego Padres. Neidert threw five innings of one-run ball in his start against the Washington Nationals on July 21.

And Miami went 2-2 in those four bullpen games, holding opponents to three runs or fewer in three of the (the fourth was the 18-1 drubbing by the Nationals).

The Marlins’ pitching staff still ranks fifth in baseball with a collective 3.53 ERA entering Monday and ranks in the top 10 in the league in home runs allowed (second, 87), walks and hits per inning pitched (ninth, 1.21), batting average against (10th, .230) and walks allowed per nine innings (ninth, 3.17).

“Consistency is great,” said Thompson, who has made seven big-league starts filling out one of the back-end rotation spots. “The more I can be out there, the more of a routine I can get into and the more I can kind of figure out what things work for me and what things don’t. ... I can start to start looking back on my data that I’ve had of every previous start and start forming a routine. It just brings a lot of confidence. The more you’re out here, the more you can keep throwing and keep on a consistent basis, it really just helps out a lot.”

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