New Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond had one clear message this spring for his pitchers: pound the strike zone.
Last season, Marlins pitchers walked 495 hitters, placing ninth among 16 NL teams. If you’re thinking, “That’s not too bad,” you probably didn’t see many games. Miami hurlers often labored and got behind in counts.
Other pitching statistics from 2012 included a 4.09 ERA (12th), 1,448 hits allowed (13th) and a .263 batting average (14th) by opposing hitters.
Redmond, a former catcher, understands the importance of pitching. More specifically, he knows getting ahead in counts is crucial to success.
The Marlins pitching staff begins 2013 with many question marks due largely to relatively inexperienced players or veterans trying to show they can still perform.
Below is a look at the Miami staff entering the season. Last year’s record, ERA and saves are in parenthesis.
1. Ricky Nolasco, RHP (12-13, 4.48): The former middle to back-end rotation guy becomes the ace following the departures of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Anibal Sanchez (last July). Entering his eighth season, Nolasco is the Marlins all-time leader in wins (76), innings (1,113 1/3), strikeouts (911) and games starts (179).
2. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP (4-13, 4.30): The 23-year-old hard thrower made 12 starts for Miami in ’12 after being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez deal last July. He had Tommy John surgery in high school.
3. Wade LeBlanc, LHP (2-5, 3.67): The rotation’s lone lefty, the 28-year-old pitched parts of four seasons with San Diego before making nine starts and 25 appearances for the Fish last year. A finesse pitcher, LeBlanc must show command.
4. Henderson Alvarez, RHP (9-14, 4.85): Obtained in the offseason from Toronto, the 22-year-old Venezuelan relies on a sinker — so he’ll need good defense behind him.
5. Kevin Slowey, RHP (Minors): Guess who caught his major league debut in 2007 – Redmond, then a Minnesota Twins catcher. Slowey hasn’t pitched in the majors since going 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA in 2011, but he looked good throwing strikes this spring.
1. Steve Cishek, RHP (5-2, 2.69, 15/19 saves): Took over the closer’s role last year after Heath Bell failed to do the job. His funky, side-arming-type motion delivers a nifty slider, and he’s working on a changeup for lefties.
2. Jon Rauch, RHP (3-7, 3.59, 4/8 saves): The 6-foot-11 hard-throwing veteran was signed in the offseason to be the setup man. Since 2006, he leads the majors in appearances (507) and relief wins (34).
3. Chad Qualls, RHP (2-1, 5.53, 0/5 saves): Qualls, 34, joins his eighth team in his 10th season. He has 597 career relief appearances.
4. Mike Dunn, LHP (0-3, 4.91, 1/6 saves): The lefty specialist begins his third season with the Marlins. He struggled last season, when he spent some time in the minors.
5. A.J. Ramos, RHP (0-0, 3.86, 0/1 saves): Made his major league debut last season pitching in 11 games for the Marlins.
6. Ryan Webb, RHP (4-3, 4.03, 0/0 saves): A starter in the minors, he’s been nothing but a reliever in the majors. Acquired from San Diego for CF Cameron Maybin, he was good in ’11 before struggling last year.
7. Jon Maine, RHP (Minors): A former 15-game winner with the New York Mets, he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2010 when underwent shoulder surgery. He had hope for the fifth starter’s role but lost out to Slowey.
Veterans Nolasco and Cishek figure to be fairly dependable as the ace and closer, respectively.
If youth can be considered a strength, there are several young, talented arms (Eovaldi, Alvarez, Ramos).
Slowey, Rauch, Qualls and Maine bring veteran presence, if they remain healthy.
Is saying, “The entire staff,” a little too general?
OK, how’s this: Can Eovaldi, LeBlanc and Alvarez pitch like seasoned veterans? They’re being asked to.
Pitcher to watch
Eovaldi. Even if Nolasco doesn’t get traded before the trade deadline, Eovaldi must develop into a solid No. 2 starter. A good record would be nice, but other statistics, along with developing and staying healthy, will mean more.
With several young starters and some veterans trying to show they have what it takes to succeed in the majors, the Marlins will go as far as their pitching takes them.
Keep a lookout for the organization’s top prospect, Jose Fernandez, who could make his debut later this season.