Spring brings competition for final rotation spot

At least seven arms in consideration to join Nolasco-led pitching staff

Spring brings competition for final rotation spot

JUPITER, Fla. -- Rather than stress about what might happen, pitching coach Chuck Hernandez offers some advice for candidates in the mix for the Marlins' fifth-starter spot: consistently get outs.

"Most of these guys should just be concerned about getting big league hitters out, however the coach asks you to do it," Hernandez said. "If you do that enough, your role will take care of itself."

The Marlins have no shortage of competition for their lone empty rotation spot. Pitchers in the hunt who are on the 40-man roster are left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Brad Hand, as well as righties Alex Sanabia and Tom Koehler. Collectively, the four don't have a tremendous amount of big league experience. They have 89 total MLB starts, with LeBlanc making 61 of those. Koehler, by comparison, has one, which came last September.

Also in the mix are a few non-roster invitees with previous big league experience, including Kevin Slowey, John Maine and Mitch Talbot.

Regardless of the experience level, the staff and organization will be looking for the bottom line: results.

"We want to get a bona-fide guy who competes and can pitch well in the role," Hernandez said.

LeBlanc, Sanabia and Koehler offer versatility. They could factor into reliever roles if they don't wind up being the fifth starter.

"Some of the kids who are candidates to be in that spot have the flexibility that if they're not the fifth guy, they might have the chance to make the club in the bullpen," Hernandez said. "We'll have a long man, maybe two. Some of them might get to stay."

The first four in the rotation are pretty much set. Ricky Nolasco is the veteran of the staff and the organization's all-time winningest pitcher. The 30-year-old is the front-runner to start on Opening Day, but manager Mike Redmond has yet to announce who will go on April 1 at Washington.

In no particular order, Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez round out the rotation. Whoever gets the nod for the fifth spot, Redmond is hopeful he will be able to eat up innings.

"Pound the strike zone," Redmond said. "We're definitely going to need a guy who is going to go deep into some games, so we are not having to use a lot of bullpen.

"That's one thing about young starters, young pitchers. Sometimes they don't always go into the sixth and seventh innings. We're definitely looking for a guy who can eat up some innings for us."

None of the projected first four starters are left-handed, which may weigh in the favor of LeBlanc and Hand.

"It's always nice to a have a lefty," Redmond said. "I don't know if you can have enough lefties, especially in our division. It's really open. We'll see who steps up and pitches the best. That's really going to be the tell-tale sign."

Due to the World Baseball Classic, there will be an extra week of Spring Training, which gives the staff more time to evaluate.

Before a final decision is made, a number of factors will be considered. Injuries, performance, and roster status will be taken into consideration.

LeBlanc found that out a year ago, when he was so impressive in Spring Training but still opened the season at Triple-A New Orleans. That's because Miami's rotation was set entering camp, and the left-hander had an option year remaining. If the decision was based entirely on performance, LeBlanc made a iron-clad case to stay when you consider he gave up three earned runs in 20 2/3 innings (1.31 ERA).

LeBlanc took the positive out of the tough decision. He noted that his Spring Training results built his confidence, and led to him enjoying a successful season. LeBlanc did make it to the big leagues, and he posted a 3.67 ERA in 25 games (nine starts).

"Last year, I had such a good Spring that I just wanted to kind of emulate that and carry it over into the season," LeBlanc said. "That's really my No. 1 goal, whether I'm starting or relieving."

Now that he is out of options, LeBlanc has to make the Opening Day roster or risk being lost by the organization. If designated for assignment, he would have to clear waivers to be in position to return. LeBlanc could also be moved in a trade.

Regardless of what happens, LeBlanc is staying with the same approach he had a year ago.

"You can't really approach it any differently," the lefty said. "If you do, then your approach changes and the outcome probably changes."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.