Miami Marlins

Pablo Lopez is returning from injury. Here’s how it impacts the Marlins’ rotation

Marlins pitcher Pablo Lopez ready for the new season

Miami Marlins pitcher Pablo Lopez speaks with the media after the first day of spring training for pitchers and catchers at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 in Jupiter, FL.
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Miami Marlins pitcher Pablo Lopez speaks with the media after the first day of spring training for pitchers and catchers at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 in Jupiter, FL.

The Miami Marlins’ starting rotation is getting some added reinforcements.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly announced Sunday before the series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies that the club intends to reinstate 23-year-old right-hander Pablo Lopez from the injured list and play him Monday to begin their four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park.

“We’ll fit him in tomorrow,” Mattingly said. “That way, everybody gets an extra day. We’ll work that way.”

Lopez has been on the IL since June 19 with a right shoulder strain. He went 5-5 with a 4.23 ERA, 73 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 76 2/3 innings over 14 starts before the injury kept him out of big-league action for two months.

“It’s been forever since I’ve been on this mound. I’m real excited,” Lopez said. “I’ve been working on some things, so it feels even longer. Every day, day in and day out being in rehab, just working on things while trying to get healthy. It’s a process that felt longer than it actually has been.”

The 6-3, 200-pound right-hander threw five rehab assignments — three with Double A Jacksonville, two with Triple A New Orleans —to work his pitch count back up after being shut down for the first month of his IL stint.

His first three minor-league starts were struggles — 12 earned runs over just five innings — but he returned to form with the Baby Cakes. Lopez gave up just two earned runs over 9 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts in his final two starts.

He threw 70 pitches (51 strikes) over six innings in his final start.

“He’s ready to go,” Mattingly said. “We were happy with his last outing.”

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The move also allows Mattingly to give the rest of his starting rotation an extra day of rest as the bulk of the young starters continue to exceed career innings.

Caleb Smith, now scheduled to start Tuesday, has thrown 127 innings in 23 starts (two on rehab assignment) after being shut down after just 77 1/3 innings last year with a Grade 3 lat strain. His career high for innings pitched in the minors was 135 innings back in 2015.

Sandy Alcantara, now scheduled to start Wednesday and coming of his third consecutive quality start, has thrown 149 2/3 innings over 25 starts this year — the only Marlins pitcher who has made every schedule start this season. He never threw more than 125 1/3 innings at the minor league level and threw 127 total innings last year (34 in the majors).

Jordan Yamamoto, who made his MLB debut on June 12, has thrown 133 2/3 innings this year — well above the 68 2/3 he threw in the minors last year and hovering around his career high of 134 1/3 when he played in Class A Advanced in 2016.

Mattingly said the Marlins still have not ruled out possibly using a six-man rotation once rosters expand in September.

“We’ve talked about different ways to keep guys’ innings down,” Mattingly said. “We want guys pitching on maximum rest. “

This was Lopez’s second injury to his throwing shoulder in as many years with the Marlins. A right shoulder strain shut him down for the final month of the 2018 season. Lopez said he spent extensive time explaining his routine to coaching and medical staff to figure out potentially avoid another injury down the road.

“Just trying to find little things that we can twitch,” Lopez said. “More repetitions. More reps. Different exercise, too. More running. Changing routines in the gym. Things like that. I was able to dissect that with the team and finding out better things to do.”

Now the question remains: Whose spot will Lopez take?

Since Lopez is on the 10-day IL, his return does not impact the Marlins’ 40-man roster, which only has 39 players anyway. The Marlins will, however, have to remove a player from the 25-man active roster to add Lopez back to the big-league club.

Considering major-league rosters expand next Sunday, the Marlins could possibly send down a reliever with minor-league options available and then call him back up next weekend when they are allotted more roster spots. Kyle Keller (who the team called up before Sunday’s game), Jose Quijada, Jeff Brigham, Jarlin Garcia and Ryne Stanek all have minor-league options.

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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.