Nate Eovaldi ready to go as Miami Marlins’ No. 2 starter

03/27/2014 12:01 AM

07/31/2014 5:15 PM

Skipper Mike Redmond said the Marlins won't formally announce the rest of their starting rotation — or other remaining roster moves — until left-hander Brad Hand makes his final start of the spring on Thursday against the Cardinals.

There is little doubt, however, who will get the ball the day after 21-year-old reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez pitches against the Rockies on Opening Night. Nathan Eovaldi has been in line for the No. 2 starter's job all spring.

On Wednesday, in his final Grapefruit League tune-up against the Braves, the 24-year-old right-hander was on his way toward another solid start before a hard come-backer to the mound by Phil Gosselin caught him on the back of his right heel. Luckily for the Marlins, it was only a scare.

"We were like, ‘Jeez, not again,’ " said Redmond, who sprung to his feet along with pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and began taking steps toward the mound in concern. "But it's good. He's fine. It hit in the back of the heel, but the hard part of the shoe. So it's not even an issue."

Eovaldi stayed in the game and faced one more hitter as the Marlins wanted to push his pitch count up. He ended up getting tagged for an extra earned run after Carlos Marmol got lit up in relief.

Eovaldi's final pitching line Wednesday: six innings, six hits, four earned runs, one walk and five strikeouts. He finishes Grapefruit League play 1-2 with a 3.44 ERA, 16 strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings.

Coming off a season in which he held opponents to two earned runs or less in 13 of his 18 starts (he went 4-6 with a career-low 3.39 ERA), Eovaldi came into the spring looking to establish consistency with his off-speed pitches. He also wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened to him last year when biceps tendinitis following his sixth and final spring start forced him to miss the first two months of the season.

"It was definitely a disappointing start to last season," Eovaldi said. "But I finished on a high note. I started throwing my curveball a lot better. I felt like I was getting some consistency with my off-speed pitches. I'm just hoping all of that comes back quicker at the start of this season."

Born in the same Texas town that produced Nolan Ryan and armed with a heater that has topped out at triple digits, Eovaldi averaged 96.2 miles per hour on his fastball last season, tops among all starters in the big leagues with at least 100 innings logged, according to Fangraphs.com.

Heat has never been Eovaldi's issue.

He’s just been very reliant on his fastball because he hasn't always thrown his other three pitches consistently through the strike zone. According to Fangraphs, 70.6 percent of Eovaldi's pitches last season were fastballs. Only 12 other starters with at least 100 innings of work relied on the fastball more.

"If the other 30 percent of the pitches you're throwing are getting over the plate at about 25 to 30 percent — that's not good. You're going to get killed," Hernandez said. "In the end, it's not how many [secondary pitches] we throw, but how many [secondary pitches] we throw for strikes. Because that makes them honor it. They can't just say, 'That's out, charge the fastball.' "

Hernandez said of Eovaldi's secondary pitches that the slider is his best, and the numbers back it up (he's thrown it 46.9 percent of the time through the zone for strikes in the big leagues). But the curveball (44.6) and changeup (39.4) still need fine-tuning.

"At the end of the day, we're talking about needing to get guys as deep in the game as we can," Redmond said. "That's the key. It's hard to do it with just one pitch. But he's working hard at it. He's had a good spring. I'm happy with the way he's pitched."

OZUNA IMPROVING?

Before going 0-for-5 in Wednesday's 9-2 loss to Atlanta to drop his Grapefruit League batting average to .164, Marcell Ozuna had been coming on strong of late at the plate in the eyes of Marlins brass.

Redmond said Ozuna had been having "much better at-bats" over the last week to 10 days. Ozuna had the game-winning RBI double in Tuesday's 6-5 victory over the Cardinals and was 4-for-13 (.307) with a pair of home runs and four RBI in his previous four games heading into Wednesday. Ozuna has a team-leading 18 strikeouts this spring but also has drawn eight walks.

The Marlins are happy Ozuna has drawn those walks, but they also would like to see the 23-year-old slugger be a little more aggressive and not take fastballs he should be swinging at.

• After tossing 5 1/3 scoreless innings this spring, Marmol was tagged for four hits and two earned runs in an inning of relief Wednesday to raise his ERA to 2.84. He also walked a batter.
• Greg Dobbs went 1-for-3 in his first Grapefruit League game since sustaining a strained left quad back on March 11.
• Second-baseman Rafael Furcal (hamstring) remained in Jupiter on Wednesday and played in a minor league game for the third day in a row. Furcal played five innings of defense — the first time he's done something other than serve as a designated hitter since aggravating his hamstring on March 15.
• Redmond said there's no reason to worry right now that shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (groin tightness) might not be ready for Opening Night.

COMING UP

•  Thursday: Marlins LHP Brad Hand (2-1, 3.38 ERA) vs. Cardinals RHP Michael Wacha (3-0, 1.76), 1:05 p.m. Jupiter (FSFL)
•  Friday: Marlins RHP Jacob Turner (2-1, 2.79) vs. Yankees RHP Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 6.48), 7:05 p.m. Tampa

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