JUPITER -- Make it a dozen consecutive hitless innings on the mound for Henderson Alvarez.
Pitching for the Marlins for the first time since he ended the 2013 season by tossing his first career no-hitter, the 23-year-old Venezuelan right-hander picked up where he left off 159 days ago.
Alvarez retired all nine Cardinals hitters he faced and used only 26 pitches to do it, retiring five on fly balls, two on grounders and another pair with strikeouts.
“For a guy who has been out for really all of spring training, he really didn’t show it,” said manager Mike Redmond, whose Marlins improved to 6-2-1 in Grapefruit League play following Friday’s 7-3 win over St. Louis.
“I was just happy with the way he pounded the strike zone with strikes. He threw everything for a strike, showed good pace, good tempo.”
Henderson’s fastball topped out at 93 mph — what he averaged last season — and he even made a couple of hitters on the defending National League champions look foolish twice with his slow moving curveball.
One of the main pieces acquired in the blockbuster deal with the Blue Jays two winters ago, Alvarez had his Grapefruit League debut delayed by about a week because of an infection in his right shin after a bug bite.
“Throwing the no-hitter last year was great for me because it gave me more confidence, more strength to keep going down the same path to achieve my goals in the big leagues,” said Alvarez, who, after missing the start of the 2013 season because of right shoulder inflammation, went 5-6 with a 3.59 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 27 walks in 17 starts to finish the year.
He followed that up by shining in winter ball in his Venezuela. He went 2-0 with a 2.74 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in five starts. The Marlins don’t expect the delay caused by the shin infection to affect his spot in the rotation once the season starts.
“Last year he got a late start because he was banged up, but we all knew this guy was a young guy with great stuff who has a lot to offer a pitching staff,” Redmond said. “It was just a matter of him going out there and showing it. Like I talk about with a lot of our starters, it’s about experience, it’s logging the innings and making adjustments. I think he was able to do all that last year when he got healthy.
“This is a huge year for him to go out there and show he’s a full-time starter in the big leagues and he can log 200 innings. If he’s able to go out there and do that, it’s not only big for us but big for him as well.”
Redmond said the no-hitter wasn’t just a big building block for Henderson, but for the team, sending them into the offseason with something positive to build off after a disappointing 62-100 season. Henderson said he sent the spikes he wore during his no-hitter to the Hall of Fame. The game ball is in his home in Miami, but his glove remains on the top of his locker in Jupiter.
With violence and civil unrest back home in Venezuela, Alvarez said he’s relieved his wife Merliy and two-month-old daughter Brianna are now safe and sound with him here in South Florida. Twice, Alvarez said, he and his family had to evade tear gas that police used to quell protests.
“Thankfully nothing happened to the baby,” Alvarez said. “And my family, my brothers are safe.”
With Alvarez, the Marlins have a potent, powerful trio of fireballers at the top of their rotation. Of the big-league starters to log at least 80 innings last season, only 32 total averaged 93 mph or better on their fastball, according to Fangraphs.
Right-handers Nathan Eovaldi (first, 96.2 mph), Jose Fernandez (sixth, 94.9 mph) and Alvarez (23rd, 93.2 mph) were on that list. The Rangers (Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez) and Tigers (Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez) are the only other teams with three starters who averaged that kind of heat in 2013.
Seeing Alvarez shine Friday reminded Redmond of his no-hitter and how good the Marlins can be.
“I think of it as a highlight to a rough year and really the start of a productive offseason,” he said. “I think we all drew momentum and got a big lift coming off that game. Him going out there and pitching that game energized us in the offseason. This is what we have to look forward to, our young pitching staff. Now we have to build some offense into this team, energize it and give it some more depth. I think we looked at that game as a steppingstone on staying focused this winter with improving the ballclub. And it really started with that game.”