Will Marlins start off with four-man rotation?

JUPITER, Fla. —  A couple of early offdays could mean the Marlins will open the season with a four-man rotation.

That doesn’t mean that one of their projected starters will not break camp with the big league club. It could mean the projected fifth starter, which appears to be Anibal Sanchez, will be used as a long reliever until he joins the rotation.

Nothing has been firmly set.

Manager Ozzie Guillen, pitching coach Randy St. Claire and the front office have yet to officially decide the direction they want to begin the season with.

Barring anything unforeseen, the first three starters are pretty much set. Josh Johnson will pitch the April 4 opener against the Cardinals, who are going with Kyle Lohse, at Marlins Park.

The next day, Miami is at Cincinnati, and Mark Buehrle is set as the No. 2 starter. Ricky Nolasco is locked in at No. 3.

The fourth and fifth starters will be Carlos Zambrano and Sanchez.

Guillen hasn’t officially said in which order they will pitch. He doesn’t really have to, because of sceduled off days on April 6 and April 10. Technically, the club doesn’t need a fifth starter until April 15, at home against the Astros.

Whoever the fifth starter is could find himself pitching out of the bullpen until April 15.

Sanchez was hindered early in Spring Training with soreness behind his right shoulder. He has been limited to 4 2/3 innings of Grapefruit League play in two starts.

He did throw five innings in a Minor League intrasquad game on Saturday, and got his pitch count up to 53.

Zambrano, meanwhile, has thrown 13 2/3 innings in four Grapefruit League starts.

If the club begins with four starters, it will likely be only through April 15. After that, the five-man rotation should fall into place.

The pitcher most impacted by the potential of a four-man rotation early is lefty Wade LeBlanc, who actually paces the Marlins in innings pitched this spring. LeBlanc has been terrific in five Grapefruit League games, with two starts. He is 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA, giving up three earned runs in 19 2/3 innings. He’s struck out 19 and walked just two.

LeBlanc has an option, and the Marlins may start him off pitching regularly in the Triple-A New Orleans rotation, rather than have his innings limited in the unpredictable long-relief role in the big leagues. At least that could be the thinking early in the season.

That could change later in April or as the year progresses, when LeBlanc could be asked to fill the long relief role.

LeBlanc is clearly the team’s No. 6 starter. Should there be an injury or a projected rotation piece needs to skp a start, LeBlanc likely would get the call.

The Marlins bullpen is pretty much set, except for maybe one or two spots.

Steve Cishek, Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica are the expected right-handed setup options to closer Heath Bell. Randy Choate and Mike Dunn are the two lefties.

Jose Ceda has had a strong camp and could win a spot. The club also will have to make a decision on Chad Gaudin, a non-roster invitee who has had a strong spring (1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings).

Joe Frisaro

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