Andrew Heaney appears to be in line for a promotion.
No, the touted left-hander will not be headed to the Marlins. Not just yet. But the soon-to-be 23-year-old could be on his way to Triple-A New Orleans.
Heaney on Saturday night was impressive for Double-A Jacksonville in a win against Pensacola. In 7 2/3 innings, the lefty struck out eight, allowed two runs on eight hits and walked one. His pitch count was up to 108 when he was lifted with two outs in the eighth.
All indications are Heaney made his ninth and final start for Jacksonville.
With a 4-2 record and 2.35 ERA, Heaney is showing he’s accomplished Double-A, and is ready for a higher experienced level of hitters.
It’s a matter of time before Heaney gets his first big league opportunity. But first, the organization appears ready to see how the lefty, who turns 23 on June 5, does against hitters in the Pacific Coast League.
Heaney is the Marlins’ top prospect, according to MLB.com. He’s also ranked as the top lefty prospect in the game.
– Joe Frisaro
Building around power pitching, in theory, is an ideal concept. Pitching, pecifically power pitching, is a prized and coveted commodity.
It’s also risky to put such a high priority at a time big arms are breaking down at an alarming rate.
The Marlins entered the season feeling they had assembled a collection of some of the finest young arms in the game. As long as Jose Fernandez was at the top of their rotation, the logic was sound.
One of the few teams with a true ace, the Marlins liked their chances with their 21-year-old All-Star setting the tone every five days.
Fernandez on Friday afternoon was set to have Tommy John surgery to repair a significant ligament tear to his throwing elbow.
When a young, strong, hard-thrower like Fernandez is lost roughly 16 months into his big league career, how does the team recover?
Well, the Marlins still have a bunch of quality arms. But the trouble the team has seen on this suddenly devastating road trip is quality arms don’t always execute quality pitches.
Nathan Eovaldi, who was throwing 97-99 mph on Thursday night at San Francisco, was roughed up in a game he was staked to leads of 3-0 and 4-1. Miami lost 6-4, falling back to .500.
In a long season, there are highs and lows. Pitching, like hitting, slumps from time to time. What’s been alarming about the Marlins during this stretch is their entire rotation has suddenly hit the wall. The lone starter during the road trip to stop the bleeding has been a 24-year-old prospect who a week ago never dreamed he’d be in the big leagues.
Anthony DeSclafani, promoted from Double-A Jacksonville, was given a shot to fill the rotation spot of Fernandez.
DeSclafani, too, has a power arm, hurling 95 mph fastballs and striking out seven at Dodger Stadium in a 13-3 win on Wednesday.
In moving forward, the Marlins still believe in building around pitching. The club also has the No. 2 overall pick in the June 5 First-Year Player Draft.
The general thinking has been the club will again go with a front-of-the rotation arm. The one arm closest to being big league ready is Carlos Rodon, the big lefty from North Carolina State.
The Astros, with the No. 1 pick, may go with Rodon. If not, the Marlins will have to decide.
We do know this in the past week, the Marlins are paying very close attention to a high school standout regarded as the best hitter in the Draft.
President of baseball operations Michael Hill was on hand a few days ago to watch Alex Jackson of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego.
Impressed with his natural hitting skills, the Marlins will continue to keep a close eye on the prep star.
This is a huge Draft for the Marlins, because they possess the Nos. 2, 36, 39 and 43 overall picks.
The organization is thin on bats, and has a chance to address that need.
Another theory is to load up on pitching, groom it, and if necessary, trade it for MLB-ready bats.
Banking on pitching, as we’ve seen throughout the Majors, is risky business. Fernandez’s injury has rocked the league, and put the Marlins in a rough spot to look to piece together what still could be a promising season.
Do they move forward thinking pitching first or guard themselves with an impact bat at a time arms are struggling to hold up?
If that is the case, Alex Jackson indeed could be the No. 2 player taken on June 5.
– Joe Frisaro
LOS ANGELES — The Marlins are looking for veteran pitching, and reportedly they have found one in lefty Randy Wolf.
According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, Wolf exercised an out clause in his contract with Triple-A Reno. The 37-year-old reportedly is on his way to join the Marlins.
Wolf last pitched in the big leagues in 2012 with the Orioles. In his 14-year career, the lefty is 132-117 with a 4.20 ERA.
In six starts with Triple-A Reno, Wolf had a 4.50 ERA.
Opportunity with the Marlins is becoming available to relievers with previous big league experience.
In the past few days, the club has designated a couple of hard-throwing right-handers with command issues. Carlos Marmol was let go after Saturday night’s loss at San Diego.
Henry Rodriguez was brought in on Sunday, and he made a couple of appearances for the Marlins before being designated for assignment following Tuesday’s loss to the Dodgers.
Miami also announced Tuesday that lefty Dan Jennings is being optioned to Triple-A New Orleans.
Anthony DeSclafani will have his contract selected from Double-A Jacksonville on Wednesday, and he will start the series finale at Los Angeles.
The team has yet to announce a second move for Wednesday. Wolf will fill the role.
Although they are going through a rough time, the Marlins are surveying the market for parts to help them get through the West Coast road trip while staying within striking distance in the wide-open National League East.
– Joe Frisaro
LOS ANGELES — You don’t just replace Jose Fernandez. The 21-year-old is too talented, and possesses too many intangibles. His energy and competitiveness are contagious.
Every aspect of Fernandez will be missed now that he is on the disabled list with a right elbow sprain. Every indication is the young ace will be out for an extended period. Surgery remains a very real possibility.
Losing Fernandez, obviously, is a crushing blow that has rocked the Marlins’ foundation.
What the Marlins can do now that Fernandez is out is make every effort to remain in the National League East race. While, on paper, the Braves and Nationals have the makings to run away with the division, neither club has. And like Miami, both those clubs have flaws.
If the Marlins think they can still be a surprise club in 2014, they should give every consideration to making a blockbuster trade. Think big. And there is a big arm that could be had for a hefty price.
Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs is a target for a number of teams in contention. Perhaps the Marlins should join the list.
The Marlins have some attractive arms in their system that could be dangled. Save parting with Andrew Heaney, their No. 1 prospect, Miami would be wise to weigh what the Cubs would be asking.
Obviously, the Marlins don’t want to thin out their Minor League pitching, but consider this: They have the No. 2 pick in the June 5 First-Year Player Draft. They are leaning towards taking a pitcher.
The main reason the Marlins shouldn’t throw in the towel on 2014 is the fact that they are 20-19, and still two games out in the division.
Even without Fernandez, the Marlins have four strong starters. Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner and Tom Koehler each have upside.
Heaney could be arriving in a matter of weeks. Anthony DeSclafani also may be arriving soon. Both are very good.
The Marlins feel they’ve put together a club that has the nucleus to make some noise in the division. Granted, they are still young. But if the team is serious about reaching the next level, what better sign to the clubhouse and a skeptical fan base than doing something big?
Samardzija is an ace. The 29-year-old also would be more than a rental. He’s affordable at $5.35 million, and he isn’t on the brink of becoming a free agent.
Yes, the Marlins could bring up Heaney and hope he lives up to expectations. The lefty is immensely talented. But it wouldn’t be fair to ask him to save the season.
Samardzija could save the season.
This is a sensitive time for the Marlins. If they let the season slip away now, what will that mean to the long-term futures of Giancarlo Stanton and Steve Cishek?
Stanton is playing at an MVP level. He is ready to win. He is focused on winning. Even during this four-game losing streak, he’s kept producing, as he takes a career-high 14-game hitting streak into Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night.
Cishek has been one of the most dependable closers in the game.
Both of them have two more arbitration years left. But if the plan is to wait til next year, how much sense does it make to waste their high-end seasons?
Then you have a veteran like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is signed for three years to provide leadership. Saltalamacchia is entering his prime. He isn’t here to spend two years to develop the young talent.
The front office makes it clear they are looking to get through Wednesday, and find someone who can start in place of Fernandez in the series finale with the Dodgaers. After that, all options are on the table.
Will exploring ways to acquire Samardzija be one of them?
– Joe Frisaro
LOS ANGELES — Jose Fernandez, the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, may indeed be out the rest of the season.
The Marlins on Monday placed Fernandez the disabled list with a right elbow sprain.
Fernandez’s agent, Scott Boras, confirmed Fernandez had two MRIs taken on his elbow Monday. And the Marlins’ ace is headed back to Miami where he will be examined by Marlins physician, Dr. Lee Kaplan.
Asked if Fernandez will pitch again this season, Boras said: “I think the best thing I can say about that is, I’m not a doctor.”
Fernandez injured his elbow during his Friday start at San Diego. It was a rough outing, as he gave up six runs (five earned) in five-plus innings.
There is a high level concern about Fernandez.
“When you go through this process, it’s difficult,” Boras said. “I’m always concerned.”
Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said the club is reserving judgment until after Fernandez is examined on Tuesday by team physician, Dr. Lee Kaplan, in Miami.
“We’re going to reserve judgment until we get a chance for Dr. Kaplan to review all the findings and talk things through with Dr. Kaplan and Jose and see where we’re at,” Hill said. “As soon as you hear that the elbow is involved, you’re concerned. We’re going to reserve judgment. We’re not going to panic or anything. Obviously, there is a level of concern. We’re just waiting to hear what the results are.”
– Joe Frisaro
SAN DIEGO — A year ago, with the Marlins in a developmental mode, the leash would have been longer. But now, a season removed from 100 losses, the Marlins find themselves playing meaningful games in early May.
Expectations are higher, and performance matters.
That’s why Carlos Marmol, signed as a free agent to provide experience to the back end of a young bullpen, was designated for assignment on Sunday. Henry Rodriguez, armed with a 100 mph fastball along with a wild streak, had his contract selected from Triple-A New Orleans.
Rodriguez, a non-roster invitee at Spring Training, has posted some interesting numbers. In 19 1/3 innings for the Zephyrs, he has struck out 37, but walked 23. His ERA is 3.26.
Entering the season, the Marlins were hopeful Marmol could emerge in a setup role. He was part of the plan to cover the seventh and eighth innings. But he struggled with an 8.10 ERA in 13 1/3 innings, and after he gave up four runs in the sixth inning to the Padres on Saturday night, he became expendable.
Rodriguez gets chance to contribute now. He gives the bullpen another power arm.
Rodriguez and Carter Capps each can routine reach 100 mph in velocity. If they can throw enough strikes, the bullpen will have two big weapons.
In the meantime, the bullpen remains the biggest area of concern for the club.
Thus far, the team has missed the production and innings logged a year ago by Ryan Webb and Chad Qualls. Webb was non-tendered and signed a two-year deal with Baltimore, and Qualls signed a multi-year contract with the Astros.
The Marlins are checking the market for available relief help.
They need additional options to take the pressure off A.J. Ramos and Mike Dunn. Ramos and closer Steve Cishek each have logged 15 innings, and Dunn is at 14 1/3 innings.
A few days ago, the Marlins signed Alex Sanabia to a Minor League contract. Sanabia reports to Jupiter, Fla., on Monday, and when he is game ready he will head to Triple-A New Orleans.
Sanabia rejoins the Marlins’ organization after he was released by Arizona. In time, he provides a long-relief option with big league experience.
If this were last year, when the Marlins were grooming young players, they may have stuck with Marmol a bit longer to eat up some innings. But now, in the thick of the NL East race, the demands for production are immediate.
– Joe Frisaro
SAN DIEGO — Chalk up Friday as an off night for Jose Fernandez and the Marlins.
As it turns out, there was a reason why Miami’s 21-year-old wasn’t himself. He was dealing with an upset stomach. In warmups, he wasn’t at his best.
And literally, as San Diego’s Tyson Ross was pitching in the top of the first inning, Fernandez threw up in a trash can in the tunnel leading into the visiting dugout.
“I wasn’t feeling well,” Fernandez said on Saturday afternoon.
Fernandez makes it clear he isn’t making any excuses for one of the worst performances of the season. The right-hander gave up six runs (five earned) in five-plus innings. He gave up two home runs to Jedd Gyorko, including a grand slam in the sixth inning.
Fernandez, a bit uneasy on the mound in the first inning, retired the side in order. In the second inning, he felt a bit better. Gyorko connected on a two-run homer in the second inning.
The Padres cruised to a 10-1 win.
On the rough night, Fernandez’s velocity was down. He did reach 97 mph in the game, but his fastball was mostly in the 91-93 mph range.
Physically, Fernandez insists his arm is fine, and he is set to start at the Dodgers on Wednesday.
“In the bullpen he wasn’t exactly himself,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “He said his stomach was bothering him. That’s what I kind of chalked it up as. The biggest thing was just location. He was missing his fastball, slider.”
Fernandez feels he ate something that upset his stomach before Friday’s start. Before every road start, he has a steak. He says the meal didn’t agree with him.
“It probably was something I ate,” Fernandez said. “By the second inning, I was like, ‘I’m back at it again.’
– Joe Frisaro
SAN DIEGO — Miami’s West Coast trip has provided the front office with a chance to multi-task.
Before the Marlins face the Padres on Friday night, president of baseball operations Michael Hill will make a visit to a high school field. The Marlins will be well represented scouting left-hander Brady Aiken of Central Catholic High School in San Diego.
The Marlins have the second overall pick in the June 5 First-Year Player Draft. Some projections have the prep standout going first to the Astros.
Also out on the trip, the Marlins are scouting another Southern California prep talent, catcher Alex Jackson, who also plays third base and outfield.
From an organizational standpoint, they’re covering all the bases. They’ve also extensively scouted Texas right-hander, Tyle Kolek.
The interesting thing about this Draft is the player who had long been considered a lock to go first overall may be dropping. Carlos Rodon, the left-hander from North Carolina State, is being more closely examined because of a dip in velocity.
Had Rodon been eligible in the previous two Drafts, he likely would have gone No. 1 overall in both of them. Now, he could slip past the top two spots.
Like the Marlins, the Astros are leaning towards pitching.
A year ago, Rodon was throwing 98 mph, combined with a nasty slider. Now, his fastball is around 94 mph.
Rodon basically is big league ready now. But if there are arm issues, the Marlins may pass if he is available.
But if the velocity rises to the upper 90s, Rodon again could find himself going first or second.
How much of a factor is velocity for Rodon? It factors into how he is projected. At 98 mph, he is regarded as a starter. If the velo is 92-94, he could wind up in the bullpen.
With the dollars being spent at the top two picks, teams are looking for an impact starter, not a reliever.
– Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — At this pace, Giancarlo Stanton could be primed to do something never accomplished in Marlins’ history. The 24-year-old right fielder could become the organization’s first MVP winner.
So many great players have come and gone through South Florida. None better than Miguel Cabrera, who finished second one time in the batting title race during his days in Miami. Hanley Ramirez in 2009 won the batting title, and finished second to Albert Pujols in the MVP voting.
No Marlin has ever finished higher than second for the top individual honor.
Could Stanton’s brute force power him to the top? If he stays healthy, it’s certainly possible.
Stanton tops the NL in home runs with 10 and leads the Majors in RBIs with 37. He’s batting a respectable .283 and his slugging percentage is at .591.
As impressive as Stanton has been, the player that topped him for National League Player of the Month in April is Troy Tulowitzki.
The Rockies shortstop is off to a blistering start. He has nine homers and 29 RBIs, and a whopping slugging percentage of .786.
Like Stanton, the key for Tulo is health. If he stays healthy, the National League could have a remarkable two-player race. At least, two players in the early going.
In handicapping the MVP field, you have to ask, are the numbers sustainable? Stanton basically is showing what he is capable of, and quite honestly, he is excelling without being as consistent as he’d like. Tulo, on the other hand, is batting .408. That’s his batting average. Obviously, it is highly doubtful he will become the first player since Ted Williams to finish above .400.
Stanton’s impact also is measured by how valuable he is to his team. The Marlins last year finished last in runs scored. The Rockies have consistently been a high-scoring team, especially at home.
Stanton also is showing he can make the players around him better. Casey McGehee, remember, was playing in Japan last year. McGehee now is batting cleanup for Miami, and he has four game-winning RBIs this year. McGehee also is batting .411 with runners on base, .406 with runners in scoring position and .444 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Garrett Jones, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Marcell Ozuna are lengthening the lineup hitting behind Stanton.
Still, Stanton is the first to admit, he has his ups and downs.
“I just have to realize, you don’t have swing as hard as you can, and you don’t have always hit a home run to be successful to get runners in,” Stanton said.
It’s pretty basic for Stanton. Don’t chase bad pitches.
“It’s just doing what I can with balls over the plate,” he said. “I’ve had some really bad games with balls over the plate. Just keeping it going, and not thinking about those, and keep pushing forward on what I can control, and help this team win.”
The Marlins clearly are built around Stanton. With his size and power, he can do so much damage when not trying to do too much.
“He gets so much leverage through the zone,” manager Mike Redmond said. “With him being as big as he is, and as strong as he is, he doesn’t have to overpower the baseball. He just has to take a normal swing. Probably, if he swings too hard, it will work against him. Just a nice easy swing for him in the zone has a lot more impact. His check swings are more powerful than my full swings. He’s got a quick bat. The key for him is pitch selection. When he gets good pitches, and when they make mistakes, he makes people pay.”
– Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — Twice last year, Jose Fernandez was named National League Rookie of the Month. On Monday, the 21-year-old received his first top overall pitcher monthly honor.
The Marlins ace was named the National League Pitcher of the Month award, following going 4-1 with a 1.59 ERA, including his March 31 Opening Day start.
Fernandez struck out 55 and walked eight in the month.
Sonny Gray was named the American League Pitcher of the Month.
In 2013, Fernandez was NL Rookie of the Month in July and August.
Fernandez carried over his strong pitching into May. On Sunday, he was not involved in the decision, but he struck out 10 and allowed three runs (two earned) in seven innings in a game won, 5-4, by Miami over the Dodgers.
Fernandez, one of the most entertaining players to watch in the game, had some moments interacting Sunday with Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez.
When Fernandez struck out Puig he gave the Dodgers slugger a look, and he did something similar after getting Ramirez on a ground ball comebacker. When Puig singled, it was his turn to showboat a little at Fernandez.
“We had a little talk [Saturday], Puig and I,” Fernandez said. “He told me, ‘If I get you, I’m going to do something with the crowd.’ I said, ‘Alright, but if I strike you out, I’m going to do something.’ It was really friendly. With Hanley, It’s the same thing.”
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly found the little exchanges amusing.
“The cat’s tough,” Mattingly said. “He’s emotional on the mound. Our guys are emotional. It’s fun. I like seeing the matchups. Our guys like facing him.”
– Joe Frisaro