Marlins riding strong starting pitching recently, even with Cy Young winner struggling

MIAMI — Among all the positives going on with the Miami Marlins nowadays — a franchise-record 51 wins before the All-Star break, holding the National League’s second wild-card spot heading into Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, home attendance on the rise — the starting rotation’s success ranks near the top.

One of the big things the rotation has done recently is going at least five innings. It’s a sign of growth for a pitcher to go through an opponent’s lineup a second time without having difficulty, and some Marlins starters are even doing it a third time.

“Initially our starting pitchers didn’t get the length that they probably wanted,” manager Skip Schumaker said. “Our bullpen really picked them up. And now you’re seeing the starters getting the length, giving our bullpen a little bit of a break.”

Sandy Alcantara (3-7, 4.72 ERA), the 2022 Cy Young Award winner, and Braxton Garrett (4-2, 3.61), the 25-year-old southpaw, have gone at least five innings in each of their past five starts. 

Jesús Luzardo (7-5, 3.32 ERA), the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High alum, and Eury Perez (5-3, 2.36 ERA), the 20-year-old rookie sensation who was sent back to the minors Friday, have gone at least five innings in four of their past five starts.

One benefit of the rotation’s deep starts is it gives the Marlins offense a chance to either take a lead or escape with a late-inning victory.

It’s a plan that’s worked to perfection so far considering the Marlins traded one of their talented starters, righthander Pablo Lopez, to obtain an even more talented hitter, All-Star second baseman Luis Arraez, who is flirting with a .400 batting average. 

“We traded away Pablo in the offseason,” infielder Jon Berti said, “but we did that knowing that we had the kind of depth we have at the starting rotation spot. So that’s been pretty awesome to see.”

When you drill down to find the reason the Marlins’ starting pitchers have been so effective it turns out their tough mentality is a prime factor, even more than their fastballs and sliders.

Alcantara typifies the tough mentality. He got a no-decision in Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Phillies after going 6 2/3 innings and giving up eight hits, one run (earned), striking out five and walking none. 

It’s been a tough start to the season for the 27-year-old righthander, but he’s trying to stick by the rotation’s reasons for success.

“Don’t listen to people outside because they always want to talk bad about you,” Alcantara said. “Try to locate your pitches, compete. But I think the first thing that we do is being together as a group, supporting each other.”

Almost every starter has had his moments recently, which is also a big factor for the rotation’s success.

“Sandy’s certainly been unlucky,” catcher Jacob Stallings said. “There’s a number of games where I feel like he’s done a lot better than the results that he’s gotten. And I think the number of underlying numbers would back me up on that.

“But I think the biggest thing is just Braxton and Eury stepping up. They weren’t in the rotation to start the year and they’ve been outstanding. And Luzardo is obviously throwing the ball great. You know, we’ve had (Bryan) Hoeing step up.”

The Marlins are hoping to get good news about two other rehabilitating starters — Johnny Cueto, the 37-year-old right-hander who has made just one appearance this season due to right biceps tightness, and Edward Cabrera (5-5, 4.70), who has been sidelined since June 17 due to a right shoulder impingement.

Cueto is scheduled to start Saturday for Triple-A Jacksonville and the plan is to activate him next week after the All-Star break.

Cabrera is scheduled to start Saturday for Class A Jupiter. There’s hope he’ll be activated before the end of the month.

Of course, the Marlins are doing just fine with the starters on the roster. 

“I just feel like there’s a lot of guys that have grown up right before your eyes,” Schumaker said. “Luzardo, Braxton Garrett, Eury’s 20 years old, so you’re going to see him growing up for a number of years.”

Even with all that going on, the Marlins know they have something else, something potentially huge, working in their favor when it comes to their starting pitching.

“I still bet on Sandy’s second half,” Schumaker said. “I think most of the guys in that clubhouse would bet on Sandy’s second half. That’s what we’re very excited about.”