The start was good. Now, the Miami Marlins have to hope there is a continued growth amongst its starting rotation if the team is going to challenge for a playoff berth this season.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about this coming year. The chance to change the team’s fortunes. The development of a solid outfield and power in the middle of the lineup. The bullpen that could be the best in baseball. But if there is one Achilles heel for the Marlins, it may be its starting rotation. The one thing that cannot fail this season.
The start of spring training games proved to be positive in the team’s 8-7 win over St. Louis. Stater Edinson Volquez gave up a run on no hits, and Tom Koehler followed with a scoreless inning. Each righty struck out one. While he has not come right out and announced his intentions, manager Don Mattingly has hinted at naming Volquez the opening day starter because of his experience. Volquez’s start on Saturday was a positive note for this organization, but it still will not fill a void that continues to remain visible like an open wound.
Jose Fernandez isn’t in Jupiter.
Per Joe Frisaro, Koehler, who has made at least 30 starts in each of the past three seasons, understands the questions about the rotation. Jose Fernandez's death last September is devastating on many levels. His personality was contagious and his pitching spoke for itself -- he was a two-time All-Star and one of the best in the game.
Rather than seek one replacement for Fernandez, the Marlins stocked up pitchers with durability. Volquez, Koehler, Wei-Yin Chen and Dan Straily each have thrown more than 190 innings in a season. And lefty Adam Conley has top-of-the-rotation potential.
Koehler hit the nail on the head when he said this team still misses its leader in the clubhouse and on the mound.
"For the first time, we have a rotation full of depth," Koehler said. "Yes, there's a glaring hole; we see that. We're missing our ace. Nobody is going to fill in for that; we understand that. Now, we have guys who have thrown 180, 190 innings, multiple times."
The team added new arms to the rotation and the bullpen to supplant the loss, but the unspoken feeling of knowing Fernandez would be on the bump each fifth day was a security blanket of sorts. It cannot be replaced.
Volquez and the other pitchers in Jupiter know this. They just have to move forward and create their own pitching success.
"I just try to be me," the 33-year-old said. "I know that [Fernandez] was one of the best pitchers in baseball. His [legacy] will be around forever. I don't have to try to be like the way he was. I just try to be me, be myself and do my best to help the team."