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Marlins need quality starts not new voice

Rumblings already? According to the Miami Herald, the Marlins’ slow start has raised speculation that manager Mike Redmond is on the hot seat. The paper added, if a change is made, Mets Triple-A manager Wally Backman could be a possible replacement.

After starting off 3-10, and getting swept in a four-game set at the Mets, clearly there is a sense of urgency. But is there outright panic to make a managerial change imminent? From what I’m hearing, that’s not the case.

In conversations with a number of people connected to the situation, I’ve heard everything from the Herald story is completely false to, yes, where there is smoke there is fire.

The speculation is quickly spreading, and it won’t calm down until the club starts winning.

The reality is, the Marlins don’t need a new manager, or a different voice in the clubhouse. They need some quality starts. They have five of them in 13 games, with two from Dan Haren. The rotation also took a huge blow when Henderson Alvarez went on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

Miami’s starters are 2-8 with a 5.23 ERA. Only the Brewers’ 5.78 has a higher ERA in the N.L. With the starters struggling, the bullpen has logged 47 2/3 innings, which matches the Giants for the most in the N.L.

Until the pitching sorts itself out, there will be trouble, regardless of the manager.

I can also say the Marlins were prepared and showed signs of coming together in Spring Training, but something has been off since the season started. So if there are rumblings now, it has to be based strictly on what has transpired from April 6 to this weekend.

Still, as of Saturday at New York, the sense around the squad was no one was panicking. Disappointed? Absolutely. But from a number of team officials, the mood was this would turn around. Did something changed on Sunday regarding Redmond, who knows? I don’t think so.

Also, as of today, with the team off before opening up a three-game set at Philadelphia on Tuesday, there was no sense of panic. The squad is catching its collective breath, regrouping, and getting ready as normal.

Backing things up a bit, the 1-5 homestand to open the season clearly stunned the entire organization. Some uneasiness from management filtered into the clubhouse, enough for the players to notice.

What happened in the days leading up to Opening Day on April 6 against Atlanta also became a topic of discussion internally. In the final days of Spring Training, the Marlins regulars were getting a bulk of the playing time. They were starting to click. Then they broke camp in Jupiter, Fla., on Wednesday, April 1. That day they even knocked around the Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, winning 8-0 at Roger Dean Stadium. The next day, the club was off, and on Friday they traveled to Greensboro, N.C., to face their Class A affiliate.

The next day, they played at Double-A Jacksonville, facing another affiliate. In both exhibitions, the regulars exited after about two at-bats. The team had a workout in Miami on Sunday, and opened against Atlanta on April 6. There was a sense that those four days of not playing much threw off the hitters’ timing in the Atlanta series.

A week later, at Atlanta, the bats started waking up, and the club won two of three. With momentum, they headed into New York, where everything collapsed. After losing their second straight at Citi Field on Friday, Giancarlo Stanton spoke out, questioning the fire in the club. From what I heard from a number of team executives, they applauded Stanton for speaking up.

It was made clear, it’s Giancarlo’s team. If he has something to say, he can say it. There was a players-only meeting, and the group spoke among themselves. From what I’ve sensed, I am not convinced all was resolved in that meeting.

But when it came time to play on Saturday and Sunday, the pitching faltered, the Mets took big leads. That mostly was on the pitching, not for lack of effort or fire. Both days, the Marlins came back and lost by a run. The competed and showed life.

This is where it all stands. This club desperately needs Alvarez back, which could be in early to mid May. They need Jose Fernandez in a big way, too. But that won’t be until June or July. Pitching prospect Justin Nicolino, in Triple-A, isn’t quite ready. Maybe he will be after a few more starts.

Or they may end up making a trade or two to add a starter.

The team also needs its big three outfielders to be themselves. Thus far the touted trio is scuffling — Stanton (.239 BA, 2 HRs, 11 RBIs), Christian Yelich (.200 BA, 13 ks in 45 ABs) and Marcell Ozuna (.263 BA, 3 RBIs, 15 Ks in 38 ABs).

This still is a highly talented team capable of turning things around just as quickly as they’ve tumbled.

They just need some patience, and some quality starts.

Joe Frisaro

Urena getting early chance to shine

NEW YORK — Plans tend to change once the regular season starts.

Jose Urena’s path to the big leagues is another reminder. In Spring Training, the Marlins had a pretty good idea how their rotation would shape up. They had seven starters on their 40-man roster with prior big league experience. They also wanted to give their top pitching prospects more Minor League seasoning.

That’s why Urena was a relatively early cut in camp. The move was not surprising, because the organization wanted the 23-year-old to get his innings in with Triple-A New Orleans.

When the Pacific Coast League started, Urena made one start for the Zephyrs, and he impressed, giving up one run on six hits with five strikeouts in six innings. He also picked up a win.

The intention was to keep Urena in New Orleans as long as possible, recognizing he was close to being big league ready.

Ready or not, the slender 6-foot-3, 175-pounder is getting his first MLB break.

Henderson Alvarez’s shoulder injury, coupled with David Phelps being placed on the MLB paternity list on Monday, created an opening for Urena, who made his big league debut, tossing a scoreless inning of relief on Tuesday at Atlanta.

Even after his one inning, the organization was considering optioning Urena back to New Orleans once Phelps rejoins the team, which is today at New York.

But Miami redirected. Urena is staying, while Carter Capps was optioned to New Orleans after Wednesday’s 6-2 win.

Phelps, who made the Opening Day roster as a long reliever, is filling in Alvarez’s rotation role. Urena, at least for now, will slide into the long relief spot.

Phelps will start on Friday at the Mets. If he makes an early exit, Urena is a candidate to log multiple innings.

Urena and lefty Brad Hand are the two long relief options.

Still, it’s hard to believe the Marlins envision Urena in that role for an extended period. It appears if Phelps has some hiccups as a starter, Urena would move into the rotation. Or, if Phelps runs with the starting spot, a role he did with the Yankees, Urena eventually would go back to New Orleans, where he would again be groomed as a starter.

There is no question Urena, signed as an free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2008, has promise. He’s logged 638 Minor League innings, and posts a 45-37 record with a 3.58 ERA.

But he’s not a finished product. His breaking ball needs some work. And because of his arm angle, it may be a pitch he struggles with from time to time. Now, instead of ironing out his mechanics at Triple-A, he will be facing big league batters.

Does he have the stuff to get hitters out at the highest level? Absolutely. But does he have all the polish? Not necessarily.

For now, Urena is along for the ride. Miami’s rotation has yet to settle into a consistent rhythm. As long as there is uncertainty, Urena is a fallback option.

Joe Frisaro

Bright spot … Latos is healthy

MIAMI — As forgetful as Tuesday night was for Mat Latos, the encouraging news is the right-hander feels fine physically.

Mentally, he’s hurting.

“Bruised ego,” Latos quipped. “I’ll survive.”

His track record indicates he will certainly recover. For now, though, the box score is not pretty. Latos gave up seven runs in two-thirds of an inning, and endured his shortest outing in 154 MLB starts.

Atlanta rolled to a 12-2 win, but the bright spot is Latos is healthy.

To make sure, I double checked with a scout who witnessed the fiasco.

What we all saw was obvious — Atlanta baserunners kept reaching base and touching home plate. At least seven of the 10 batters Latos faced scored.

Did Latos look hurt? According to the scout, “No.”

The scout’s assessment: “Not setting up pitches well. Some good pitches were getting hit.”

Bottom line: he was both terrible and unlucky.

With that, we move forward.

Yes, it was the shortest stint in Latos’ career. It also was an uncharacteristic performance. In his 154 starts, Tuesday marked just the 16th time the right-hander didn’t last at least five innings.

For Latos, he gets a shot at revenge. His next start will be against, you guessed it, the Braves on Monday in Atlanta.

Joe Frisaro

Dunn dominates in first outing

MIAMI — Lost in the shuffle of Miami’s 2-1 loss to the Braves on Opening Day was the dominant eighth inning turned in by lefty reliever Mike Dunn.

Dunn did his part to energize the club by striking out the side in order on 15 pitches. It marked the 13th time the lefty has fanned three in an inning, and the fifth time he struck out the side in order in his career. He last did it on Sept. 11, 2014 at Milwaukee, which turned out being the game Giancarlo Stanton got struck in the face by a pitch.

On Monday, Dunn faced three straight lefties, and sent Jace Peterson, Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman down on strikes.

The most strikeouts Dunn has had in a game is five in a two-inning stint in 2011.

Joe Frisaro

Yelich unveils hand-crafted Louisville Slugger

MIAMI — Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich made history in January when he became the first player in history to sign his bat contract on the Louisville Slugger site.

The hand-crafted Louisville Slugger bat Christian Yelich plans on using in first at-bat on Opening Day.

The hand-crafted Louisville Slugger bat Christian Yelich plans on using in first at-bat on Opening Day.

During his trip to the Louisville Slugger headquarters, Yelich had a special bat made. One bat was personally made by Danny Luckett, a renowned bat craftsman.

That bat was just sent to Yelich at Marlins Park, and it was taken out of its wrapper before Miami opened against the Braves.

Yelich plans to use that personalized bat just once, in his first at-bat, before he switches it out.

Yelich uses a maple S318 model Louisville Slugger that is 34-inches, 31-ounces.

Joe Frisaro

It’s time! Opening Day gets season rolling

MIAMI — At last, a blog post that counts.

All the offseason hype and Spring Training buildup is over.

All the talk, banter, bold predictions can be thrown out the window. Beginning at 4:10 p.m. ET today, it’s all about action, not words.

Opening Day has arrived for the Miami Marlins. They take on the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park. Those planning to attend are advised to arrive early. Gates open for season ticket holders at 1:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. in general. The four main parking garages are expected to fill up fast, so allow yourself time to park and get ready for the first pitch.

The Marlins enter 2015 with high hopes. They’re focused on making the playoffs, and appear to have the pieces to play deep into October. Starting today, however, they have to prove it. Just like every other club. Yes, that includes the Nationals, a team many are saying can sleep walk their way into the postseason.

Talking a good game no longer cuts it if the performance doesn’t back it up. All the analytics, projected WARs and preseason odds mean nothing at this point.

Legendary boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer will handle player introductions today. But in the words of Michael’s half-brother, Bruce Buffer, we can safely say: “It’s Time!”

The Marlins basically have been ready for Opening Day since the last week of Spring Training. They’re hungry. Focused. Most importantly, they are in good health, which is key.

Here’s some random thoughts entering 2015:

* The Marlins were no-hit by Jordan Zimmermann at Washington in the 2014 finale. So that means, their last hit came in the ninth inning of Game 161 on Sept. 27. Justin Bour singled in the ninth off Drew Storen. Miami did score a run that day. So they enter the season with a nine inning scoreless streak.

* Before the first pitch today at Marlins Park, fifth starter Jarred Cosart will be throwing a simulated game at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. Cosart, who makes his first regular season start on Saturday against the Rays, is expected to be done in time to be at Marlins Park for the first pitch.

* Triple-A New Orleans added some bullpen depth as right-hander Nick Masset has agreed to pitch for the Zephyrs. Masset, an non-roster invitee in Spring Training, was released on March 31. He decided to remain in the organization.

* New Orleans should be strong in the Pacific Coast League. The Zephyrs projected regulars are: Justin Bour 1B, J.T. Realmuto/Jhonatan Solano C, Reid Brignac 2B, Miguel Rojas SS, Derek Dietrich 3B, Cole Gillespie LF, Austin Wates CF, Jordany Valdespin RF.

During the season, Brignac and Rojas will move around from second, third and short. Dietrich will play some second and first.

Zephyrs rotation will include Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena, Adam Conley, Andre Rienzo and Pat Misch.

* Jose Fernandez should start facing hitters in about a month, and he should be ready around mid-season.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins continue to explore pitching options

MIAMI — The Marlins on Sunday will finalize their 25-man roster, but the front office is far from done searching for pitching depth.

With some concern over their rotation, Miami is exploring possible trade options. Ideally, they’d like another starter, but also could use use a more help in the bullpen.

Miami’s rotation had its struggles in Spring Training. Not only were a number of the performances rocky, but the durability of the staff also has caught the front office’s attention. Mat Latos dealt with a left knee injury last season. And in mid-October he had a scope on his right elbow. Although he is ready to go, and threw well in a Minor League game on Thursday, the team would like some other options, just to make sure.

Latos is the No. 2 starter, and he is set to face the Braves on Tuesday at Marlins Park.

Henderson Alvarez, the Opening Day starter, tweaked his left knee earlier in camp. Nothing major, but enough to have the organization being cautious. Plus, Alvarez has a knack for getting shaken up, only to brush himself off and still be effective. He had another close call in his first Grapefruit League start when he had a minor collision at first base.

Jarred Cosart dealt with a blister to his right middle finger late in Spring Training. Again, he appears to be fine.

And Dan Haren, while durable, isn’t overpowering. If he isn’t effective, the team would like additional options, just in case.

Miami’s bullpen depth also took a hit this week with news that Aaron Crow likely will need season-ending Tommy John surgery, and Preston Claiborne will be out at least a month with a right shoulder labrum injury.

Those are two right-handers with big league experience who are not available in the short-term, if at all during the season. The club hopes right-handed reliever Nick Masset, who has big league experience but was cut recently, agrees to join the Triple-A New Orleans squad.

Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena are getting close to being big league ready. Both will be on the Triple-A New Orleans staff. Nicolino, a lefty, has a string of 14 straight scoreless innings in Triple-A exhibitions.

Perhaps the starting depth is already on the roster. Long relievers David Phelps and Brad Hand each are candidates to start at any time. Either of them may end up being the answer.

Joe Frisaro

How Marlins rotation, final roster shapes up

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — At last, there is clarity to the Marlins rotation and projected final roster.

The only rotation spot the club has announced is Henderson Alvarez will start on Opening Day, which is April 6 at home against the Braves. The rest of the rotation is expected to fall in line with Mat Latos going in the second game, and Tom Koehler sliding into the No. 3 spot. That appears to be the trio that will face the Braves in the first series.

As things are shaping up now, Dan Haren will be the No. 4 starter, making his first appearance on April 10 at home against the Rays. Jarred Cosart, who is dealing with a blister to his right middle finger, projects as the fifth starter, making his first start on April 11.

Miami’s roster currently is at 34, and there is a strong chance the final roster will be set on Tuesday morning.

This is how I see the final 25 coming together.

Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
First base: Michael Morse.
Second base: Dee Gordon.
Shortstop: Adeiny Hechavarria.
Third base: Martin Prado.
Left field: Christian Yelich.
Center field: Marcell Ozuna.
Right field: Giancarlo Stanton.

Three bench players are givens: catcher Jeff Mathis, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and infielder Jeff Baker.

In my opinion, and this is not official, Donovan Solano and Don Kelly will round out the bench. Kelly can play the corner infield spots, as well as the outfield. The left-handed hitter also would be an emergency third catcher. Solano plays middle infield, third base and he is a right-handed bat. What about Jordany Valdespin? He’s had a great spring. He also is signed to a Minor League contract, without an out clause. So if he doesn’t make it, he will open the year at Triple-A New Orleans.

The bullpen is tricky, and is giving the front office plenty to think about.

The locks in the ‘pen are Steve Cishek (closer), Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos and Bryan Morris. The club plans on taking two long relievers, David Phelps and lefty Brad Hand. That leaves one spot. It likely will go one of three ways. Rule 5 pick Andrew McKirahan has really turned heads and a number of clubs would be eager to trade for him if he doesn’t make the final spot. Miami likes the 25-year-old, too. But the lefty hasn’t pitched above Double-A, and the question remains — is he the best option to win now?

The Marlins will be counting on the bullpen to log plenty of innings, especially with the starting pitching potentially being shaky early. Of concern is whether McKirahan is ready?

If not, are they better off with either Aaron Crow or Sam Dyson, two right-handers who can both throw multiple innings.

My guess is McKirahan makes it. But that may not wind up being the case, and Crow or Dyson, could claim the final spot because the team clearly is in a win now mode.

Joe Frisaro

Hand likely to remain in Miami

JUPITER, Fla. — Brad Hand is getting the start for the Marlins on Friday night. All indications are it won’t be a showcase outing for the lefty, who has been mentioned in potential trade talks.

The Marlins are leaning towards retaining Hand, largely because of his upside (he’s 25) and the fact they may indeed need the depth, either in the rotation or bullpen.

Hand is in the mix for the fifth starter spot, which appears to be going to Tom Koehler. The Marlins are listening to potential offers for Hand, who is out of options. But they are not eager to trade off any of their surplus pitching, at least not at this point.

We saw why this week.

On Thursday, Miami announced Hand would start at the Astros on Friday at Kissimmee, Fla., in place of Jarred Cosart, who is dealing with a blister to his right middle finger.

Cosart also is the subject of an MLB investigation into his possible link to gambling. But even before the Cosart situation surfaced, the Marlins were hesitant to moving Hand. A number of teams have inquired, including the Rangers.

Miami used 13 different starters in 2014, a franchise most. The rotation became a revolving door after Jose Fernandez was lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery in May. All-Star Henderson Alvarez also spent time on the disabled list.

The organization feels they are nine deep on the starting pitching front, and it will be 10 when Fernandez returns in mid-season.

Bottom line is Hand provides both depth and upside. He also is the lone lefty option still in camp. Add in the fact he has a mid-90s fastball, and he is under club control, puts him on the list for any club looking for young, affordable starting pitching.

Joe Frisaro

Figuring out ‘pen tough challenge

JUPITER, Fla. — Nothing is set, and nothing is off the table.

One of the toughest tasks for the Marlins’ front office is figuring out who stays and goes in the bullpen.

The way I see it is Brad Hand holds the key. Out of options, the left-hander is attracting interest on a possible trade front. The Rangers already have been mentioned. Yet, the club may wind up keeping him.

As things appear now, the rotation is set with Tom Koehler getting the fifth spot. Hand was in contention. The Marlins appear willing to carry Hand and David Phelps in the bullpen.

With unpredictable and cold weather on the road in April, you never know what you’re going to get from your starters. If there are rain delays or rain outs, it could shake things up in the rotation. So having two long relievers makes sense for at least the first month, where Miami makes trips to Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia.

The Marlins also have reason to want to retain Hand because he would be a left-handed spot starter. Currently there are all right-handers in the rotation.

But if Hand stays, it creates a situation with lefty reliever Andrew McKirahan, a Rule 5 pick formerly with the Cubs.

McKirahan, 25, has shown terrific “stuff,” including a biting slider and a low-90s fastball.

A number of teams, including the Rangers, would be eager to acquire McKirahan in a trade. But the same reasons they like McKirahan also is why Miami would like to keep the lefty. He has upside and is affordable.

But McKirahan hasn’t pitched above Double-A. Is he ready to help the big league club on what Miami anticipates being a contender?

That’s a burning question, because it places the Marlins in a situation of where they can add a nice organizational piece, but he may not be the best piece for the Opening Day roster.

Joe Frisaro

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