It’s tough for any ballclub to rebound from the loss of an ace. That has been the case for the Miami Marlins (47-52) since Jose Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery in mid-May.
The young rotation has had trouble regaining its 2013 and early 2014 form, ranking third-to-last in the National League with a 4.16 ERA. Veteran Randy Wolf was signed, then designated. Rookies Anthony DeSclafani and Andrew Heaney earned highly anticipated call-ups but struggled. Lefty Brad Hand and righty Jacob Turner are currently getting second chances.
Three consecutive solid starts from Hand, righty Tom Koehler and Turner have given the Marlins their first three-game winning streak since the beginning of June.
Carl Pavano, who is in his first year as a FOX Sports Florida analyst, played 14 seasons in the big leagues with the Montreal Expos, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians. He was part of the 2003 Marlins that won the World Series. Pavano also made the All-Star team in 2004.
FOX Sports Florida’s Christina De Nicola spoke to Pavano about the current state of the rotation as well as the possible return of his former teammate and right-hander Brad Penny. She’ll catch up with Pavano and other members of the broadcast team throughout the 2014 season for insight on the club.
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: The rotation has struggled of late. What have you noticed as a former pitcher?
CARL PAVANO: One thing I’ve noticed is you lose your No. 1 guy and you’re depended on a little more than maybe your career has dictated that you’re ready for. You get a little anxious and you try to do too much. You also, on the other hand, get guys who step up and they’ve needed and taken on roles they weren’t in before. The injuries they’ve had has opened opportunities for other guys like DeSclafani and Heaney.
That’s the beauty of this sport is that you hate to get an opportunity because of someone else’s failures or getting injured, but that’s a lot how it happens. I’ve seen so many times in my career where guys have taken it and run with it. I really thought those two guys were poised to do that, but they’re still young men. There’s definitely guys they’re looking to to fill those spots of need right now. The guys they have here now have just been inconsistent.
They’ve tried Wolf and that didn’t work out. They were trying to get lightning in a bottle. Organizations will inject that veteran guy, but it didn’t work out. I think if Turner can get an opportunity to start — I hate to say this — but the system hurts a guy like that (with no remaining options). He needs to go to the minor leagues and get 10 starts. He’s got great stuff — first of all. I’m a big promoter of him.
FSF: He’s only 23!
PAVANO: He’s a young man and he has awesome, awesome stuff, but he needs to go out there and repeat it. He needs to go out there and execute it for 110 pitches each start and game. He never got that opportunity after spring training. That’s an important part. It’s kind of hurting him right now and the rotation. I really think he could be that guy to give them six, seven innings. He hasn’t been in the routine and he’s a young guy. It’s not like he’s a 30-year-old guy with all this experience doing it behind him. That hurts the guy and you’ve got Hand who is pretty much the same thing. He’s bounced around (between the bullpen and rotation) and hasn’t had any consistency. This adversity they’re going through now that they wouldn’t have gone through if they were in the rotation and doing well will help them, make them stronger and adjust to these times. If this is the next time they have to adjust to this, they’ll be much more ready. No one wants to go through it, but you have to go backwards to go forward. That’s what they’re doing now. If you want to be successful you have to get through these times.
FSF: Two things off of that. The first one — manager Mike Redmond mentions it quite a few times — they’re still young, these pitchers. How much can you use that as an excuse because they are for the most part still inexperienced?
PAVANO: The reality is it’s a young man’s game, but the older man learns the most. You give them enough leeway that you understand they’re going to go through trials and tribulations, but there is a point where you have to say, ‘You’re paid to learn and have success.’ You want to see improvement, so hopefully the bad times don’t last forever. When you start seeing improvements and see how they’re going about making those improvements, those are the things that are impressionable to say, ‘That guy’s learning as he goes there.’ You have to show that you’re learning and making those upgrades in your game or routine to create consistency. That’s really what it’s all about.
FSF: You mentioned the routine. I think when Hand was called off the DL he mentioned how coming up as a starter, it threw him off coming out of the bullpen. How crucial is it as a starter to have that set routine?
PAVANO: I can say from experience — I’ve had a couple spring trainings where I’ve gotten hurt in spring training and didn’t have those early innings to get myself going. I was also a guy who was a late starter. I didn’t start hitting my stride until May and the second half was usually my stronger half because I got better as the year went on. I need spring training. I needed those innings to get to the point where I was finding consistency, and I think that’s similar to a lot of guys. As you get older you can do more in less time because you’ve been through it. You’re not taking shortcuts, but you understand where you’re at and can add to it. At a young age you’ve got to say, ‘Alright, this isn’t working’ and find something that works and add it to your game. You do that throughout your career. Sometimes as you get late in your career things that worked in the beginning you have to understand those aren’t going to work and let those go and find different ways. It’s a game of adjustments and experience. Unfortunately experience teaches you all that. You can’t get experience unless you’re doing it. It’s a necessary evil in a way.
FSF: We all saw the other night Brad Penny pitching (in a minor-league game). How long do you think the Marlins can maybe try with these younger guys before they need to bring up Penny who they know can maybe give them innings?
PAVANO: I think you’re at a point now as an organization you give guys opportunities. They have to earn those opportunities and fortunately for Penny he has a resume behind him that he’s done it once and he could do it again. His biggest thing is going to be health. From the organization’s standpoint, if he’s doing well and he’s healthy give him an opportunity. His job is to have success to stay here. It’s a little different dynamic than the younger guys because these guys are going to fail and go through their times, but you want to see improvement from not just day-to-day but month-to-month and that builds on. At the end of the year you can access ‘he was here, he’s made improvement.’ It’s not an easy decision for the organization or coaches to come to terms with. The players — their success helps them work through it.
FSF: Do you know much about how Penny has had to adjust? I remember when Josh Beckett came down here (earlier in the season with the Los Angeles Dodgers) he wasn’t throwing as many fastballs. He was more of a ‘pitcher.’
PAVANO: Matter of fact, Penny threw mid-upper 90s when he was younger, but now he’s 90-94 mph with five pitches. I was talking to (infield coach Perry Hill) about it. He’s got a curveball, a cutter, a sinker, a changeup and a split. He’s got five pitches he’s working with. He’s come a long way. There was a time when he was just fastball/curveball. He was still learning the changeup. Fourteen years into it, you’ve got to pick up pitches and reinvent yourself. The best way to say it is you want to keep the hitters surprised. Once you become predictable — this is Major League Baseball — they’re going to figure it out. You’ve always got to keep them guessing, keep them on their toes. Whether it’s mixing up your pitches, not staying in the same sequences or picking up new pitches. Hitters, when they go up there they try to eliminate pitches. ‘This guy has four pitches but only two working today, so I only have to worry about those two.’ Penny’s very motivated. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all pans out.