The Marlins returned home from their first winning road trip of the season early Thursday morning three games over .500 — a game off the pace they were on the night they lost ace Jose Fernandez for the season.
As they open a 10-game homestand Friday against the Pirates, the Marlins (34-31) have the division-leading Nationals within reach.
“We’ve given ourselves a chance,” manager Mike Redmond said Tuesday. “We’ve ended up winning quite a few games when I’m sure a lot of people said, ‘These guys are done, they’ve got no chance. They lose Jose, they’re out of it.’ But these guys feel like we do have a chance, and we believe in ourselves.”
Despite being shut out by Yu Darvish on Wednesday, the Marlins can credit most of their success to the vast improvement they’ve made offensively. After finishing dead last in scoring last year, they rank second in the National League in runs scored.
But to keep pace and stay in the playoff hunt, it’s clear the Marlins are going to have to upgrade their pitching staff, or at the very least get more production out of the guys they have in the starting rotation.
Since Fernandez went down May 9, the starting rotation has gone 9-12 with a 4.64 ERA. Marlins starters were 11-8 with a 3.22 ERA when Fernandez was a part of the rotation for the first 36 games of the season.
The only starter who has improved since Fernandez went down is Henderson Alvarez. He was 2-2 with a 2.62 ERA before Fernandez’s injury. He is 1-1 with a 2.48 ERA in his six starts since, but the Marlins are 5-1 in the games Alvarez has started. He also had a streak of 26 consecutive scoreless innings.
“You need guys to come to the forefront, and he’s done that,” Redmond said of Alvarez. “[Nathan] Eovaldi has had a lot of success, too. The beauty of our pitching is we have other guys that can go out there and dominate, too.
“[Jacob] Turner is equipped for that. Tom Koehler is equipped for that. We just need to keep going and understand that guys need to just continue to go out there and keep us in the ballgame and give us a chance to win.”
Eovaldi has pretty much done that. He was 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA in his seven starts before Fernandez’s injury, and he’s 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA in the six starts since. But Koehler has seen a stark drop in production, and Turner has been miserable all year.
Koehler started the season 3-2 with a 1.99 ERA in his first nine starts. He’s 2-3 with a 6.00 ERA over his past six. Turner (2-4, 6.38) has the worst ERA of any starting pitcher in the NL.
“It’s not a stuff thing,” Koehler said. “As I’ve shown, my stuff works and plays up here. It’s just about being more consistent. Whether that’s being more aggressive or not trying to do too much — a controlled aggression. I have the confidence I’ll be back to where I was at.”
Veteran Randy Wolf was signed to help replace the loss of Fernandez. He tossed six innings of one-run ball in a win over the Rays on June 2. But his other starts didn’t make it past the sixth, and he gave up nine hits and four earned in those games that turned out to be losses.
With top prospect Andrew Heaney (7-2, 2.47 ERA in 13 minor-league appearances) waiting in the wings, it won’t be long before some help arrives. Heaney was scratched from his fifth scheduled start for Triple A New Orleans on Thursday night in El Paso, Texas, and could be in line to replace Turner. Marty Scott, the Marlins’ vice president of player development, said Thursday that scratching Heaney from his start had nothing to with a pending call-up.
“We decided a few weeks ago we were going to skip a start here and there [with Heaney],” Scott said. “This is the first of several.”
Scott said the Marlins want to make sure Heaney is still available to pitch for them in September, especially if the team is still in playoff contention. Like Fernandez last season, Heaney has a prescribed innings limit of 160 to 170 innings this season, Scott said.
Heaney has already totaled 72 2/3 innings between Double A Jacksonville and New Orleans. The Marlins want to avoid a situation like the one involving Stephen Strasburg in 2012 when the Nationals pitcher was shut down in early September even though the team was still in contention and reached the postseason.
But will Heaney be enough?
The Marlins are likely weighing that decision now as much as what to do with their 40-man roster, which still needs to have room for second baseman Rafael Furcal and Heaney when they finally decide to make the moves.
Turner is out of options. Brad Hand, on the disabled list, has made two stellar starts in Jupiter on rehab assignment. Newly signed reliever Kevin Gregg is now pitching for New Orleans.
And catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be back from the disabled list soon.