Miami Marlins’ young pitchers are season’s bright spot

09/06/2013 12:01 AM

09/06/2013 12:52 AM

The Marlins don’t hit. They don’t score. They don’t win very often.

But they’re better than most in one area: pitching.

Though they have the youngest staff in the majors, it’s also one of the best in years for the Marlins — and it’s above average compared to the rest of the National League.

“Doesn’t make you bad just because you’re young,” said Marlins’ pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. “Just makes you young.”

Led by 21-year-old rookie phenom Jose Fernandez, who takes the mound Friday at Marlins Park to face the Nationals in what will be his next-to-last start this season, the Marlins’ pitching staff has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreadful season.

For the first time in seven years, the Marlins’ cast of mostly 20-somethings could wind up with a collective ERA that is better than the league average.

The team’s earned run average of 3.74 ranks seventh in the NL Of the six teams with lower ERA’s, five are likely headed to the playoffs. And the team that is directly in front of them by a hair — Washington (3.73) — is still in contention for a wild card spot.

“They’re talented,” Hernandez said of the Marlins’ hurlers. “And they’re in the process of becoming really great.”

Barring a complete implosion over the final 25 games, the Marlins could finish with the lowest staff ERA in franchise history. That mark is held by the 1997 Marlins, who finished with an ERA of 3.83.

Of course, the numbers need to be placed in the context of the time. Scoring is down from the so-called “Steroids Era.” As recently as 2006, only one NL staff had a sub-4.00 ERA, and the league average was 4.49.

Now, the average is more than a half run lower.

Fernandez is the undisputed leader of the kiddie corps and a top contender for the league’s Rookie of the Year title.

“We’ve got one who is a little advanced for the program,” Hernandez said of Fernandez. “We all understand that.”

The other starters aren’t shabby.

Nathan Eovaldi (23), Jacob Turner (22) and Henderson Alvarez (23) have shown flashes of brilliance, and the minor-league system is flush with top pitching prospects who could soon be knocking on the door.

“We’re in a process,” Hernandez said. “This isn’t just like a golden rainbow sitting out there on the end of the street. There’s going to be bumps along the way.”

But their stockpile of pitching is the greatest asset for the Marlins, who might be forced to deal some of it in order to acquire hitters and improve the lineup.

Grand promise

For someone with only two home runs to his name, Adeiny Hechavarria made a rather bold prediction Wednesday when he confided to third base coach Joe Espada that he would hit a home run off Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

Hechavarria didn’t just homer. He hit a grand slam for the second time this season.

“You called it!” Espada yelled out as Hechavarria passed him at third while circling the bases.

Hechavarria became the 17th Marlin to hit more than one grand slam in a season. The franchise record of three grand slams in one season is shared by four players: Bobby Bonilla (1997), Jeff Conine (2004), Hanley Ramirez (2009) and Cody Ross (2009).

But Hechavarria is probably the least-likely Marlin to muscle up with the bases loaded. The other Marlin with fewer than 10 home runs to connect on two or more grand slams in a season was Kurt Abbott in 1994. Abbott hit only nine homers that season.

Coming up

•  Friday: Marlins RHP Fernandez (10-6, 2.33) vs. Washington Nationals RHP Dan Haren (8-12, 5.02), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
•  Saturday: Marlins RHP Eovaldi (3-5, 3.40) vs. Nationals (TBA), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.

Scouting report

The Marlins have lost nine of their 12 games so far this season against the Nationals. … Fernandez has held opponents to a .186 batting average, which is the best in the majors.

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