John Smoltz recently made the comparison – favorably – of this young Marlins staff to the one he was a part of, the historic young rotation of Smoltz, Glavine, Avery and Maddux that was the staple of the early Braves’ runs. Pitching was the focal point, as Smoltz noted – and it is no different with the Marlins.
But this is nothing new to Marlins fans. They saw it develop with the ’97 firesale that brought in AJ Burnett and eventually Brad Penny, Josh Beckett and even Carl Pavano. That rotation was the main impetus to the Marlins championship run in ’03 – with Beckett stealing the show as the Marlins shocked the world and finished the job at the Yankees’ house.
Now, the Marlins have reloaded. Still around is crafty veteran Dontrelle Willis, all of 24 years of age. The rest of the rotation is anchored by Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Ricky Nolasco and the emerging Anibal Sanchez.
We all know about Willis, the wide-eyed high kick lefty has grown since his sensational rookie campaign – into a Cy Young contender and a legitmate staff ace. He started off struggling this season, on the heels of a shaky WBC performance, but has picked it up of late. Over his last 10 decisions, the Marlins are 7-3 while D is 5-1.
But it is the cast of rookies that is starting to garner some well-deserved attention:
Josh Johnson, the 6’7″ right hander, is 8-5 on the year with a 2.60 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .224 off of him and he is quickly becoming the #2 guy in this rotation.
Fiery lefty Scott Olsen, already getting into at least 2 incidents with teammates – not including a stern talking to by manager Joe Girardi – is showing he can bring the fight on the diamond, too. He pitched 6 innings of shut out ball against the Braves today, lowering his ERA to 3.79 on the year while grabbing his 9th win, which leads the Marlins staff.
Ricky Nolasco, the ex-Cub, was quietly cementing his spot in the rotation back as early as spring training. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz was comfortable with his abilities, and he hasn’t let him down. Nolasco has started 12 games now and touts a solid 4.27 ERA on the year. Yet, at Joe Robbie Stadium, he is 5-2 with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. If he can just be more consistent on the road, he could finish with 15+ wins as well.
And finally, Anibal Sanchez. After tossing 23 scoreless innings in a row, the rookie who was called up just as a spot starter is going to possibly stick wtih the team sooner than expected. His ERA is at 3.00 now, and he is 4-0 on the year with a 1.19 WHIP, despite his low K/BB ratio (18/12).
There is room for improvement – the Marlins are ranked 27th in first pitch strikes currently. They need to do a better job throwing strikes and walking less batters. The sexy K’s are there – Willis, Olsen and Johnson are already over the 90 K mark. Nolasco has shown some ability to strike hitters out with 62 K’s in 86IP. Sanchez probably hardly ever throws a ball straight, and will continue to keep batters off balance – so the K’s will come. And they continue to learn about location and having better command, as well as letting the defense do the work for them.
Despite all the learning curves, the Marlins rookies have been able to cement the rotation, and in doing so, have also solidified the roles of the bullpen. No wonder the Marlins wins have come in bunches more of late. The future is bright, and the Marlins have definetly reloaded.
The scary thing is, they have even more talent in the minor leagues.