Marlin Starters Look to Take Next Step
With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in just less than three weeks the Florida Marlins starting rotation has a great amount of potential but even more uncertainties. Josh Johnson, the Marlin ace, answered his critics last year who questioned his durability. In the 2009 season, Johnson, who turns 26 on Sunday (1/31), completed his first 30+ start season, while logging 209 innings. He parlayed his 15-5 2009 season into a four-year $39 million dollar contract.
The questions coming into spring training this year will be swirling around the men who will make up the rest of the starting rotation. Righties Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez will have to solidify the middle of the rotation if the Marlins want to compete with the Phillies and the rest of the NL East. Consistency is the key word for these two in camp as Nolasco has the stuff to be a front of the line starter as he’s shown in the second half of the 2008 season, and sporadically throughout his tumultuous 2009 season. However, his inability to string together quality starts in 2009, in addition to his demotion to Triple A-New Orleans last year makes Nolasco a nice bounce back candidate as a starter for the Marlins.
Anibal Sanchez has seen the highs and lows as a major league starter. In his rookie season of 2006, Sanchez threw a no hitter against the Diamondbacks and finished the season 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts. Dealing with demotions, control issues, and a torn labrum, Sanchez has pitch intermittently throughout the last three seasons. 2009 saw Sanchez make his most starts (16) since his rookie year so there is reason for optimism heading into the 2010 season. Sanchez in his major league career has never eclipsed the 115 IP mark for the season.
The back end will see the young but talented Sean West, Chris Volstad, and Andrew Miller compete for the final spots in the rotation. In addition to the three young guns vying for a few rotation spots, is the Netherlands own Rick VandenHurk. VandenHurk, 26, is the oldest among those who are trying to nail down a back of the rotation spot, he is also the shortest. But make no mistake about it, he is no Eddie Gaedel, VandenHurk stands at 6’5. The Marlins have a pair of starters at 6’8 in southpaw West, and RHP Volstad, while lefty Andrew Miller stands in at 6’7. Along with Johnson, who is listed at 6’7, it is likely at some point this season three or four members of the rotation will be 6’7 and above. West, 23, Volstad, 23, and Miller, 24, all former first-rounders, will come into camp with work to do. Whether it’s West and his ability to pitch well for an entire season, Volstad, and his penchant for giving up the long ball, or Miller with his inability to throw strikes, all of the young guys have room to improve.
In ’09 Sean West, like most rookies, had his highs and lows. In the month of August he compiled a 3-1 record while posting a respectable 2.77 ERA. As the calendar turned to September, in five starts, West had a 6.85 ERA. The consistency in his ability to get outs will be paramount for West as he heads into his second season as a big leaguer.
Chris Volstad, who encountered the sophomore jinx in ‘09, comes into the 2010 season looking to get back on track he set for himself in his rookie campaign. In pitching a career high 159 innings last year, up from 84 1/3 in his rookie year, Volstad saw his ERA jump from 2.88 to 5.21. The spike in his ERA can be largely attributed to the 29 long balls he surrendered, up from just three in his rookie season. The 2008 National League Rookie of the Year looks to bounce back as he has worked out the kinks in his delivery and enters camp in his third season as a big league starter.
The last and possibly the most talented of the three youngsters is Andrew Miller. The former Detroit Tiger farmhand pitched last season in the Arizona Fall League after throwing 108 2/3 innings between the minor leagues and with the Marlins. For Miller, the refinement of his delivery will be the deciding factor in winning at the big league level. In the 2009 season, Miller saw his walk rate at 4.8 BB/9 which will not win him a rotation spot come this season. If he can harness his control, and limit the free passes, the lefty could prove to be a strong piece in the Marlin rotation.Despite a talent-laden rotation, the 2010 Marlins pitching staff has some major concerns once you get passed their ace, and Cy Young candidate, Josh Johnson. If all the young starters can answer their critics and improve on last season, with Ricky Nolasco finally putting a full season together, this Marlins team will compete for the NL Wild Card.
By: Nicholas Gaetano
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