Miami Marlins’ starting rotation comes into clearer focus with latest roster move

The Miami Marlins optioned starting pitcher Jordan Yamamoto to their alternate training site in Jupiter shortly after practice at Marlins Park ended on Friday night.

Doing so provided a little clarity to how their starting rotation will look to begin the 60-game 2020 season, making Elieser Hernandez the clear front-runner to handle the fifth spot behind Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez and Jose Urena. The exact order for the rotation has not yet been announced outside of Alcantara, who will start the season on Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly said the organization was looking for “really the most consistent guy and the guy that you feel like is going to be able to give us the best chance to win every fifth day” when figuring out who to give the final rotation spot.

Hernandez, whom the Marlins acquired in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft and have used as both a starter and a reliever to mixed results (5-12 record, 5.11 ERA, .255 batting average against, 130 strikeouts in 148 innings), has looked sharp since practices resumed earlier this month.

What about Nick Neidert and Robert Dugger?

Nick Neidert and Robert Dugger, the Marlins’ Nos. 10 and 30 prospects, respectively, according to MLBPipeline, are also still in the running for the fifth spot but could very well be used out of the bullpen as long relievers with 30 roster spots to open the season and no limit on the number of pitchers a team can carry.

Also remember: There are a slew of new health and safety protocols in place this season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A player could be sent home or back to the hotel on game day even if he’s simply running a fever, meaning teams need to have backup plans incorporated into their rosters.

“We have to be prepared for that,” pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. said Friday, “and make sure that in putting some of those potential starters into the bullpen instead of sending them to Jupiter, to keep your pitches up and electing to put them in a bullpen to help you win games that you keep some volume behind their pitches during the season.”

Marlins right-handed pitcher Jordan Yamamoto pitches the ball during a intra squad simulated game at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida on Sunday, July 12, 2020.
Marlins right-handed pitcher Jordan Yamamoto pitches the ball during a intra squad simulated game at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida on Sunday, July 12, 2020.

What does this mean for Jordan Yamamoto?

Now, this doesn’t mean Yamamoto won’t be used at some point this season. With so much uncertainty surrounding the season and need for consistent results to remain in the playoff hunt, pitchers could be on short leashes should they struggle.

Yamamoto is the only starting pitcher the Marlins have at Jupiter with MLB experience. The 24-year-old righty from Hawaii made his MLB debut last season and dazzled early, going 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his first six starts. He lost five of his final nine games from there and finished the year with a 4.46 ERA and 82 strikeouts over 78 2/3 innings that spanned 15 starts. He relies more on command and a five-pitch mix (four-seam fastball, cutter, slider, curveball and changeup) than an overpowering fastball.

“It’s kind of all hands on deck,” Stottlemyre said. “It really is a different season, and we’re going to be creative in our thinking to try to get out of the gate and win some games. Development will always be at the forefront, but we are in a must-win sprint season, and that changes our mind-set.”