It would be a stretch to say the season went south for the Marlins a year ago this week. Failure was largely a given, preordained following the blowup of the 2012 club.
But when the Marlins lost 60 percent of their starting rotation to injury and underperformance in the days leading up to the season opener, the team’s fate was sealed.
Without Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner toeing the slab every fifth day, the Marlins nosedived out of the chute and went 14-41 in April and May.
“It was huge,” Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said of the devastating effect the loss of three projected starters had on the team’s overall performance. “It was terrible.”
It’s why Jennings and the rest of the Marlins are keeping their fingers crossed heading into the home stretch of spring training, hoping the starters — the team’s greatest strength — make it to Opening Day on March 31 healthy and in one piece.
Eovaldi, the Marlins No. 2 starter behind staff ace Jose Fernandez, made his next-to-last start of spring training on Friday against the Astros. Alvarez is set to take the mound Saturday while Turner is on top for Sunday.
“How significant is it knowing you’re going into the season with 1 through 5?” Jennings asked while watching Eovaldi face the Astros. “Ask me that on the 30th because, remember, we had this conversation last year at this time. I’m superstitious.”
The last thing the Marlins want is a repeat of 2013, when everything went wrong. The offense was putrid, the worst in the majors. But stumbling as badly as they did without their top pitchers was crushing.
Without Eovaldi, Alvarez and Turner, the Marlins resorted to a cast of starters that included Alex Sanabia, Kevin Slowey and Wade LeBlanc, as well as Ricky Nolasco and then-unproven rookie Jose Fernandez.
In the season’s first two months, the trio of Sanabia, Slowey and LeBlanc went 4-17 with a 4.33 ERA in 28 combined starts while Fernandez struggled to get his footing, going 2-3 in April and May with a 3.78 ERA.
“It was tough, not having the guys we anticipated in the rotation,” manager Mike Redmond said.
Not until the reinforcements begin to arrive — Turner on May 31, Eovaldi on June 18 and Alvarez on July 4 — did the pitching gel and the team’s fortunes begin to improve. The Marlins went 48-59 after June 1 for a winning percentage of .449, an improvement over the April and May figure of .254.
“We finally got our guys back, and we played like I thought we would from the start,” Redmond said. “It just took a little longer to get there.”
The Marlins’ core starters have had a good spring.
Collectively, Fernandez, Eovaldi, Alvarez, Turner and the two fifth-starter candidates — Tom Koehler and Brad Hand — have allowed only 16 earned runs in 75 2/3 innings for an ERA of 1.90.
“If we’re all healthy, I feel like we’ve got a great chance to be strong,” Eovaldi said.
And everyone, at least so far, has remained healthy.
“That’s one of the things we’re excited about this year, seeing what we can do with guys we anticipate being there from the start,” Redmond said.