Miami Marlins

Caleb Smith is heading to the IL. How will the Marlins handle his rotation spot?

Don Mattingly talks about injury to Caleb Smith

Miami placed Caleb Smith on the 10-day disabled because of discomfort in the left side of the hip and hopes he can return in the next two or three weeks.
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Miami placed Caleb Smith on the 10-day disabled because of discomfort in the left side of the hip and hopes he can return in the next two or three weeks.

Caleb Smith had felt some discomfort in his left hip over the past few starts. Nothing major, the starting pitcher thought. His hope was to play through it for as long as he could.

That changed after his start Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Marlins placed Smith on the 10-day Injured List with left-hip inflammation on Friday ahead of their nine-game that starts with a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves.

“It sounds like it was something he was dealing with,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, “and after the San Diego [start], he didn’t bounce back the way he had been getting back to the point of feeling good. ... It just didn’t make sense for him, at this point in the year, to kind of limp through starts instead of getting him right.”

Smith began the season looking like the Marlins’ best pitcher. The 27-year-old left-handed pitcher had a 2.21 ERA through seven starts and struck out at least seven batters in all but one of those outings. He did not allow more than three earned runs in a given game over that span.

And then, he began regressing to the mean.

Smith has lost four of his last five decisions and did not go longer than 5 1/3 innings in any of those games. His ERA over those five outings: 5.79.

It all culminated in his final start Thursday against the Brewers, a 5-1 Marlins loss to close out the series after winning the first two games of the set.

His average fastball velocity dropped about 3 mph. He couldn’t drive with his legs. The ball didn’t come out right. It resulted in Smith losing for the fourth time in five games after giving up three home runs and four earned runs over five innings of work.

“I just haven’t felt the same,” said Smith, who missed the second half of the 2018 season with a Grade 3 lat strain. “[Thursday] was probably the worst.”

Mattingly said he does not believe the injury is serious.

“It’s more like a sprained ankle or something that you’re going to recover from,” Mattingly said. “It’s not like it’s any kind of damage. It’s just a matter of getting him on the other side of it.”

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And now, the Marlins (23-37) will have to tinker with their starting lineup for the first time this season after going 12 full rotations with just five starters — the longest stretch in MLB this year.

Smith was scheduled to make his next start on Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, so the Marlins have opted for an extra arm in the bullpen for the time being by calling up right-handed reliever Tyler Kinley.

But when Tuesday rolls around, the Marlins have some options for how to handle Smith’s absence.

They can call up a starter in Triple-A New Orleans. Elieser Hernandez, who is on the 40-man roster and has a 1.13 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 48 innings spanning nine starts this year. Hernandez is scheduled to start Saturday for the Baby Cakes, so that is something to monitor.

Mattingly could also opt to use the pitchers he already has on the 25-man active roster and put together a bullpen game depending on how much his relievers are used in the first four games of the homestand. Wei-Yin Chen could make a spot start and the Marlins have long relievers in Jarlin Garcia, Austin Brice and Jeff Brigham. They could also use an opener role, something Sergio Romo has experience with.

“We’ve talked about a number of different things,” Mattingly said.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.