Tom Koehler isn’t buying the conventional belief that the starting rotation for the Marlins — a rotation that is conspicuously without Jose Fernandez — is the team’s weakness.
“Yes, there’s a glaring hole,” Koehler conceded. “We see that. We’re missing our ace. Nobody’s going to take that and fill in for that.”
But the durable Koehler is convinced the rotation is better than most believe it to be and that it won’t be the Marlins’ undoing.
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With the exception of young lefty Adam Conley, the rotation is filled with pitchers who can log innings, hold their own and get the ball to a fortified and highly regarded bullpen.
“For the first time, we have a rotation full of depth,” said Koehler, a workhorse who has missed just one start because of injury over the past three seasons. “Now we’ve got guys who have thrown 180, 190 innings multiple times. If we can get 25-plus starts from the five guys we start [the season] with, we’ll be just fine.”
The Marlins have never had five starters each make at least 25 starts in one season. Four is the most.
But if the group of Koehler, Conley, Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily and Wei-Yin Chen can pull it off, it would signal two positives: sustained health and at least adequate success by all five members.
“When you look at it on paper, yes, we’re missing that clear-cut No. 1 [starter],” Koehler said. “But we have guys who have gone tee to green and have thrown those innings, and if we can stay healthy we think can do a really good job of handing the ball to the bullpen with the lead more nights than not.”
That’s the blueprint manager Don Mattingly intends to follow.
“We’ve got [starters] keeping us in the game every day,” Mattingly said. “That’s what we’re going to ask our starters to do, to keep us in the game. Let’s not think about going seven or eight [innings]. Let’s think about getting outs early, coming out sprinting and not coming out trying to pace yourself because you’re going to try to get 100 pitches.”
With an eight-reliever bullpen, Mattingly said it could lead to early pitching changes.
“We’re just building our bullpen where it’s better equipped to handle that,” Mattingly said. “We’re able to sustain more of that [early removals], which really allows us to have a little bit of a quicker trigger on guys.”
The Marlins plan to start the season with three multiple-inning “bridge” relievers — Jose Urena, Jeff Locke and Dustin McGowan — to go with five late-inning relievers.
The results were bad. But it was mission accomplished for Conley.
Making his spring debut on Sunday against the Cardinals, Conley was tagged for five runs in one inning.
But Conley was dead-set on throwing all of his pitches over the plate.
“There’s nothing that bothers me more than putting guys on for free,” Conley said. “So it’s a priority for me this camp to throw as many pitches into the strike zone as I can and learn to get outs in the strike zone. Right now, the mission for me was, however many pitches it was going to take to get through that inning, throw every pitch a strike.”
Conley was struck on the right calf by a line drive.
“Usually what I like to tell myself is that the ball weighs five ounces, so how bad can it hurt?” he said.
ICHIRO ON MEND
Ichiro Suzuki, who remains on the mend from his outfield collision last Tuesday, said he is gradually working his way back into playing condition. Ichiro bruised his right knee and tweaked his lower back during an outfield drill.
“It’s definitely getting better, but it depends on the day,” Ichiro said. “So it will probably need a little more time. We need a little more time to see how it goes.”
▪ Dee Gordon remained out of the lineup for the second day in a row with an eye infection and won’t make Monday’s trip to Fort Myers to face the Twins.
▪ Monday: Marlins RHP Urena at Minnesota Twins RHP Ervin Santana, 1:05 p.m., Fort Myers.
▪ Tuesday: Marlins LHP Chen vs. New York Mets (TBA), 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.