Marlins pitching prospect Pablo Lopez on his first career major league start
Caleb Smith chose the option that should ensure his return to full health by the start of next season.
Smith, the Miami Marlins’ most consistent starter so far and one of the top-performing rookie pitchers in baseball, elected to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery after he suffered a grade 3 lat strain last week in Colorado.
“Once we found out the MRI [results], we knew he’d miss the season,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He looked at his options and he felt this was best for him.”
Smith, who was acquired along with Garrett Cooper in a trade with the New York Yankees in November for international pool money, was leading all MLB rookies with 88 strikeouts at the time of his injury.
Smith, 26, went 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 77 1/3 innings (16 starts) and won three of his past four decisions with the Marlins going 6-1 over his seven starts before getting hurt.
“Our young guys didn’t know a lot about him at first other than what we heard from [Marlins Vice President of Player Development] Gary [Denbo] and the Yankees guys and seeing his numbers,” Mattingly said. “The swing and miss on his fastball opened our eyes as seeing this guy is kind of elite from the standpoint of swing and miss. When you put that all together with his breaking stuff, his changeup, command and all that, knowing that’s there is a great starting block.”
Sandy Alcantara, the Marlins' top pitching prospect, became the sixth rookie to start a game for the Marlins this season when he opened Friday’s game.
Smith’s injury opens the door for Alcantara and Pablo Lopez, another Marlins’ highly-regarded pitching prospect, who will make his major-league debut on Saturday night. The Marlins will officially call up Lopez on Saturday and option reliever Ben Meyer to Triple A New Orleans.
Lopez, the Marlins’ No. 20 overall prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, pitched in spring training and has since experienced a meteoric rise through the team’s farm system.
Lopez, a 22-year old Venezuelan-born right-hander, was acquired by the Marlins in the trade for reliever David Phelps nearly a year ago. At the time of the deal, Lopez was pitching for the Seattle Mariners’ Single A Advanced affiliate in Modesto, California.
“It’s still doesn’t feel real that I’m here on this field with these teammates in this scenario,” said Lopez, whose parents, sister and girlfriend will be among the family he plans to have in attendance.
Lopez signed with the Mariners in 2012 and made his pro debut the following year, but missed all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. After a year in rookie ball in 2015, Lopez bounced back strong in 2016 going 7-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 13 starts (17 appearances) in his first full single A season.
After pitching in spring training this March with the Marlins, he caught their attention with his solid command of his pitches and his maturity.
“Pablo’s impressive with his whole demeanor and the way he handles himself,” Mattingly said. “He’s well prepared and is along the same lines of Sandy. Things have happened to set the dominoes in effect so we just move on with it.”
Lopez opened the season at Double A Jacksonville where he made eight starts there and compiled an absurd 0.62 ERA in 43 2/3 innings, striking out 51 and walking only eight while holding opponents to a .184 batting average.
Lopez was promoted to Triple A New Orleans in early June where he then made four starts and went 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA. While the numbers weren’t as good as in Double A, Lopez’s consistency impressed the Marlins enough to give him the chance when spots opened up due to injuries.
“I was just trying to control what I could control and get better, working on routines and developing better habits,” Lopez said. “I’ve developed good routines between starts and taken care of my body.
"The confidence my teammates gave me in spring training was very helpful.”
▪ J.T. Realmuto returned to the starting lineup and was behind the plate Friday after missing the previous four games with a sore left wrist.
Saturday: Miami Marlins RHP Pablo Lopez (MLB debut) vs. New York Mets RHP Jacob deGrom (5-3, 1.69 ERA), 4:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
Sunday: Marlins RHP Dan Straily (3-3, 4.82) vs. Mets LHP Steven Matz (3-5, 3.69), 1:10 p.m., Marlins Park.