4 Early-Season Miami Marlins Storylines to Follow Most Closely

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4 Early-Season Miami Marlins Storylines to Follow Most Closely
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Jose Fernandez was superb in his major league debut Sunday. He'll be a Marlin to keep an eye on this season.

It's only been a week, but valuable information can be gleaned if you know where to look.

For the Miami Marlins, a couple of areas bear watching after their shaky, but probably predictable, 1-5 start. 

In fact, Sunday's 4-3 loss to the New York Mets could probably best illustrate what has unfolded for the Marlins on the field thus far.

 

1. Jose Fernandez

First, the good news.

Jose Fernandez's debut should be dubbed a success even though he received a no-decision, none of which was the 20-year-old's fault. Fernandez yielded one run on three hits with one walk and eight strikeouts—a team record for most strikeouts in a major league debut—in five innings of work.

Fernandez was dominant from the beginning, as he needed just eight pitches to go one-two-three in the first inning. In the second inning, Fernandez caught first baseman Ike Davis looking at a backdoor curveball for strike three to begin the frame. Then, he fanned Mike Baxter swinging on a 95 mph fastball. Finally, Fernandez reached back for a little extra heat as he struck out Lucas Duda swinging on a 97 mph fastball.

After three innings, Fernandez had thrown 33 pitches, 23 for strikes, as the Mets went nine up, nine down.

Daniel Murphy became the first Met to get to Fernandez when he singled with one out in the fourth inning. But on the next at-bat, Fernandez struck out David Wright looking on a curveball called, according to injured first baseman Logan Morrison's tweet, "The Defector."

It wasn't until the fifth inning when Fernandez got tired and allowed Anthony Recker to drive in Ruben Tejada with a run-scoring double down the left field line. 

When Fernandez was done, he had a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately, the bullpen was unable to close it out.

"I was more nervous watching five through nine than when I was pitching," Fernandez told The Associated Press. "It didn't feel any different. It was more like a spring training game."

Some Mets, though, were impressed with Fernandez.

"He's going to be a good one," [Marlon] Byrd predicted, saying Fernandez reminded him of Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. "He's one of those guys if he's on, it really doesn't matter if you've seen him or not. He's going to be electric."

Coming into his debut, Fernandez was neither scared nor nervous—and with good reason.

“I’ve been in jail. I’ve been shot at. I’ve been in the water,” Fernandez told the Miami Herald of his path to the big leagues. “I’m not scared to face David Wright. What can he do?”

Fernandez escaped Cuba about five years ago, and now, thanks to injuries to right-handers Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, Fernandez could stick with the big league roster much earlier than expected.

“The consensus was this kid’s ready to handle it here, he’s ready to pitch here,” Larry Beinfest, the Marlins president of baseball operations, told the Miami Herald. “We think he’s ready to do it. It was not a decision that was made like, ‘Hey, let’s bring Jose up because he’s really good.’ We spent a lot of time around the kid. It just seems like he’s ready to do this. This is where he should be.”

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Keep in mind Fernandez has never pitched above Single-A, and the plan this season is to keep his innings count to 170 before shutting him down. If he reaches that threshold in the majors, he will become the fourth pitcher in MLB history to throw 100 innings as a rookie after making the jump from Single-A.

Oh, and by the way, it also means Fernandez could reach free agency a year sooner (2018) than if the Marlins would have waited and brought him up from the minors later this season.

“So what?” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said. “We’ll deal with it. He’s unique.”

 

2. Where's the offense?

You know you're offense is in trouble when the No. 5 hitter, granted it's Justin Ruggiano, was bunting for a base hit with Greg Dobbs on first base and two outs in the third inning Sunday.

Although it's a small sample size, some individual Marlins have been decent with the bats.

For instance, Dobbs has six hits in 17 at-bats since first baseman Casey Kotchman strained his left hamstring and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Meanwhile, Ruggiano has six hits, four of which for extra bases, in 21 at-bats; three of Rob Brantly's five hits, in 16 at-bats, have been for doubles; and Donovan Solano is batting .333 (7-for-21).

Collectively, though, it's been a struggle. The Marlins are averaging 2.3 runs, which included a 19-inning scoreless drought to begin the year, are hitting .180 (9-for-50) with runners in scoring position and have stranded 44 baserunners (7.3 per game). 

For a team that was expected to have trouble generating offense, it must find a way to come through when the opportunities present themselves. The fact the Marlins stranded 12 runners and were 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position contributed to Fernandez's no-decision.

 

3. Bullpen's struggles

While the starting pitching has been a pleasant surprise (2.48 ERA), the bullpen has been a mess (8.10 ERA), culminating in Steve Cishek blowing the save against the Mets, which cost Fernandez the win in his debut.

"It's all on me," Cishek told the AP after Sunday's loss. "It's my job to go in there and shut it all down."

Currently, Cishek and Chad Qualls each have a 15.43 ERA, A.J. Ramos has a 6.00 ERA, and Ryan Webb and Mike Dunn each have a 5.40 ERA. The only members of the bullpen with an ERA under 4.00 are Jon Rauch (3.86) and John Maine. However, Maine has yet to appear in a game this season.

 

4. Jeffrey Loria

What would the Marlins be if Loria didn't open his big mouth every couple of weeks?

In advance of the team's home opener Monday, Loria tried to reach out to the public when he spoke about the offseason fire sale with the Palm Beach Post last week.

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“It’s great baseball. It’s the beginning of a new era for us and it’s exciting,’’ Loria said before the Marlins lost 3-0 to Washington on Wednesday, the team's second consecutive shutout to open the season.  “People will look back two years from now and say, ‘They did the right thing.’"

In the same piece, a sellout crowd of 37,442 will probably be a long shot, but the Marlins are expecting at least 30,000 spectators Monday night. That said, at least one recognizable scribe has given his two cents on Loria's latest sound bite.

"Just a piece of advice from this corner: Fans don't want to hear from him right now. The only thing that will win over fans is winning," ESPN.com's Buster Olney said in his blog last Thursday.

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