Miami Marlins

Marlins’ Hernandez makes case to be fifth starter, but says he’s still open to whatever

The battle for positioning in the back end of the Miami Marlins’ starting rotation raged across multiple fields Monday in Jupiter. At Roger Dean Stadium, Elieser Hernandez took the mound for the Marlins as they battled the New York Mets in a Grapefruit League game. About 300 yards to the north, Jordan Yamamoto took the mound for an intrasquad game on one of the back fields in the Marlins’ spring training complex.

Hernandez threw 52 pitches in four to help Miami tie the Mets, 1-1. Yamamoto, pitching for a team made up mostly of the Marlins’ Class A Advanced prospects, threw about 70 pitches across five innings against a team made up mostly of Miami’s Double A prospects.

Both are in the mix to be the Marlins’ fifth starter this season.

“It’s a good feeling knowing I’m healthy,” Yamamoto said, “feeling good today.”

Said Hernandez, through an interpreter: “My mentality has been the same. I’ve come here trying to work really hard. It’s the same mentality, I’m just trying to get a spot on the roster.”

Manager Don Mattingly watched Hernandez pitch in person Monday and was impressed by one of the pitcher’s best outings of the spring.

Hernandez fired 41 of his 52 pitches for strikes and allowed just two hits in his four shutout innings. The right-handed pitcher struck out five, including All-Star utility player Jeff McNeil on three pitches in the fourth inning. Both Mattingly and Hernandez were pleased with the righty’s tempo, which Hernandez felt had been off in his first four appearances this spring.

“It’s more about my tempo,” Hernandez said. “I was leaving my release a little early and that’s one of the things I’ve been working on.”

While Yamamoto is probably the front-runner to be the No. 5 starter on the Opening Day roster, Hernandez’s outlook is a bit murkier. Hernandez was one of five pitchers to make at least 15 starts for Miami in 2019, but he also made six appearances out of the bullpen.

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Right now, the Marlins are building up Hernandez’s workload as if he will be a starter either in the majors or for Triple A Wichita.

“You look at the best 13, so whatever way that is,” Mattingly said. “For the most part for him, he hasn’t been as good coming out of the ‘pen [5.96 era in 48 1/3 relief innings]. We don’t know if that’s just because he’s a young guy coming out of the ‘pen, not used to that routine or whatever. I think in general, we look at him as a starter, not really as a ‘pen guy, but there’s going to be some discussions as we get to the end of this. You know, what’s our best 13, what makes our ‘pen better, what makes our rotation better?”

Hernandez said he’s open to whatever will get him back to the majors.

“I love the game. I’m a baseball player,” Hernandez said. “As long as the team just gives me that trust, I’m going to take the role and I just love the adrenaline that baseball has after I cross the two lines.”

More Miami Marlins takeaways

Alex Vesia worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to seal the 1-1 tie. The relief pitcher, who’s a top-30 organizational prospect in the MLB.com rankings, now hasn’t allowed an earned run in the last 40 1/3 competitive innings he has pitched.

Brad Boxberger gave up his first run of the spring in the top of the fifth inning. The relief pitcher continues to impress Mattingly, though, because of how his velocity has ticked back up from a disappointing 2019 season with the Kansas City Royals.

Jonathan Villar’s speed will certainly be a factor for the Marlins in 2020. The middle infielder, who is moving to the outfield, helped manufacture Miami’s only run Monday, when he beat out a double-play ball to force an error and let catcher Chad Wallach score in the bottom of the sixth.

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