It looks like the Marlins have lost their most consistent starting pitcher for the rest of the season.
Caleb Smith, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list after exiting early from Sunday’s start in Colorado, underwent an MRI on Monday that revealed a Grade 3 lat strain in his left (pitching) shoulder.
While no immediate time table was known, the recovery period for that extent of a strain can typically take months, which would keep Smith out for the remainder of the season.
Smith exited Sunday’s start in Colorado in the second inning after 31 pitches when he experienced tightness in the shoulder.
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"It's definitely worse than I thought," Smith said. "I thought it was going to be like a pulled muscle or something. I didn't think it was going to be torn off the bone. It's definitely unexpected for me."
Smith said he's still considering having surgery seeing that the recovery period figures to be too long for a possible return this season. Plus, he said he wouldn't want to risk the injury not healing properly.
"I can either have surgery or give it time and let it heal itself," Smith said. "Either way, I think I'm out for the season. I don't think there is anything I could have done to avoid it. I've done the same routine I do. I've done that for whole career, pretty much. I don't think there was anything I could have done differently.
"If I let it heal on its own, so many things could go wrong. I could be healed, or think it's healed and start throwing, and feel it again, and have to get surgery and prolong it. Or I can go ahead and get surgery and be ready by Spring Training."
The injury curtails what’s been a positive first season with the Marlins for Smith, who leads all major league rookie pitchers with 88 strikeouts.
Smith has been the Marlins’ most consistent starter this year going 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 16 starts.
"I saw him before the game and obviously he was pretty down about something like that," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "We know it’s going to take some time. It won’t be overnight, 10 days or something like that. It’s a tough one to swallow with a guy that’s been showing so much promise for us this year."
The Marlins acquired Smith, 26, in a trade last November with the Yankees along with outfielder/infielder Garrett Cooper for minor leaguer Mike King and international bonus slot money.
Smith’s injury coupled with Jose Urena’s right shoulder impingement (already on the DL), and Dan Straily awaiting a decision on his appeal of a five-game suspension, could leave the Marlins short three starters in their rotation in the coming days.
The Marlins recalled right-hander Ben Meyer from Triple A New Orleans on Monday. Meyer pitched out of the bullpen during his first stint with the Marlins earlier this month, but manager Don Mattingly indicated Monday he could start if necessary as he has in the minors.
Meyer pitched three scoreless innings and allowed one hit in two appearances from June 6-14. At New Orleans, Meyer has gone 3-4 with a 4.27 ERA in 52 2/3 innings (10 starts and 11 overall appearances).
Elieser Hernandez is slated to start Tuesday for Urena, who started a throwing program Monday and the Marlins think will return soon after his mandatory 10 days on the disabled list.
With Smith out for some time, the Marlins will need a long-term replacement in the rotation.
"I think it’s just opportunity for someone else and that’s what we look at," Mattingly said. "It’s not necessarily fair because a guy has a tough injury. But it is an opportunity for guys to show what they can do. A lot of guys have been working hard. We’ve been talking about building depth in the organization and pitching has been one of the things we’ve talked about building up. We’ve had young guys throw the ball well, but now more guys get an opportunity."
Marlins President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill mentioned Dillon Peters and Jarlin Garcia (both currently pitching for New Orleans) as potential candidates on Monday.
But Hill reiterated that the Marlins would continue to be patient with top pitching prospect Sandy Alcantara, who has pitched 85 innings (14 starts) in Triple A this year, as well as others such as Pablo Lopez (1-1, 3.71 in three Triple A starts).
Rookie prospect Merandy Gonzalez, who has made seven extended relief appearances during two stints in the majors this season, is another option. Gonzalez, the Marlins’ No. 13 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, is pitching for Double A Jacksonville.
Mattingly said ideally Brett Graves would remain a reliever for the time being and not move into the rotation. Mattingly also said he’d keep Adam Conley as a setup reliever due to his success in that role.
Alcantara has gone 5-3 with a 3.71 ERA, striking out 64 and walking 34 batters.
“[Alcantara’s] progress has been great,” Hill said prior to Monday's game. “I think you're seeing a young pitcher’s evolution from thrower to pitcher and that’s been the overall goal with him to get him more consistency with all the little parts of being a major league pitcher. We’re taking our time with him.”