It’s been a rough start to the season for the Marlins’ starting rotation. While they expected to be without the services of their ace Jose Fernandez who underwent Tommy John surgery last year, there is no way they were prepared for what happened next. After starting 0-2 with a 4.5 ERA, #2 starter Henderson Alvarez went to the DL with shoulder issues. He returned on May 17th only to go right back on the shelf after back-to-back 5 inning, 4+ ER starts. Mat Latos, an arm who the Marlins gave good value to acquire was shelled in his last spring training start, shellacked in his first regular season start, and battled through seven more outings despite missing a few miles an hour off his fastball before it was revealed that the injury to his knee which has hampered him before in his career had flared back up. Latos, pitching out of the #3 spot, also went to the DL. Finally, Jarred Cosart was good in the month of April, pitching into the 6th in three of his four starts and notching three quality outings before also hitting the DL with vertigo after three subpar May starts. At the beginning of the season, Miami looked to have a solid squad that would perform well only to be pushed over the line by the return of Fernandez in mid June. Consequently, it has been far from that simple as the Marlins who have had to get creative with their rotation, calling upon anything close to major league ready starter as well as a few guys past their prime to get the job done. Predictably, the makeshift rotation of veterans Dan Haren and David Phelps and youngsters Tom Koehler, Brad Hand, and Jose Urena has struggled. In 45.1 IP since Alvarez and Latos went to the DL on May 22nd, Marlins starting pitchers have posted a 2-2 record with four no decisions along with a terrible 5.18 ERA on 47 hits and a 20/27 BB/K. The average start has lasted less than six innings (5.2), included 6 hits, over 3 runs, 3 walks, and 6 Ks. The rotation’s collective WHIP since May 22nd is an elevated 1.5. With current production down and uncertainty surrounding the health of Fernandez, Latos and Cosart when they return, the Marlins have loaded the bullpen with guys who can pitch multiple innings of relief and if need be, step in to the rotation. On Tuesday, Kendry Flores became the latest in a line of such options to join the club, replacing Steve Cishek who was optioned to AA Jacksonville on Monday.
Flores is 23-year-old righty who comes to the Marlins despite having never played a single game in AAA. While the current state of affairs which sees the Marlins in need of relief help that can go more than one inning earned him the call over guys like late inning reliever and closer Nick Wittgren and while it came at a bad time for the organization’s third ranked prospect Justin Nicolino who has struggled over his last six starts definitely played dividends in allowing Flores to skip a stop in AAA, he has done plenty on his own that warrant the call to the bigs. Flores’ best asset is exactly the thing the Marlins pitching staff as a whole has lacked the most this season: consistent control. While members of the staff have looked great at times, their handle on their pitches can exist or not exist depending on the day. In his minor league career, Flores has rarely had such problems. Two years ago as a member of the single A Augusta Greenjackets, Flores posted an unheard of 8.06 strikeouts to walk ratio by way of a 137/17 K/BB. A year later, while his fastball picked up an extra few miles an hour going from a maximum 92 to a maximum 95 MPH, and the improved movement on his slurvy curveball made it a plus pitch while maintaining good bite on his changeup (which is probably his most comfortable pitch), Flores didn’t fall in to the trap of trying to overthrow. Another great K/BB resulted because of this. This time it was 112/32 and ranked sixth in the California League. Flores’ 9.51 K/9 was fourth in the entire California League. His 4.09 ERA (which still ranked eighth in Cali League) and 1.25 WHIP (which still ranked fifth) were significantly higher year but this can be attributed to the fact that he was playing in a much more hitter friendly league and the highest BABIP he has ever posted, .307. After coming to the Marlins this offseason as the center piece in the Casey McGehee trade with the Giants, Flores has began his AA career by flashing the same brand of control he has enjoyed for his entire career. The arsenal is similar to what it was last year (92-95 MPH heat, mix in mid 80’s change, and a sharp out-pitch curveball that lives in the high 70s), Flores has managed to hold down a 2.08 ERA in his first 56 IP at the highest level he has ever played at. While Flores’ .201 BABIP and his 3.57 FIP indicate he has been a bit lucky to post such minuscule numbers, he has continued to throw the ball well, the strikeouts keep coming and the walks remain at a minimum. While it definitely would have been nice to see Flores throw more than nine games above A ball and while he is doubtfully ready to become a mainstay in a major league rotation, Flores has still developing stuff that should serve him well as he attempts to make a name for himself. With a good showing out of the bullpen this year, however short it may be (Cosart, Latos and Fernandez are all returning soon which will need to clear up some spots in the pen), the 23-year-old can ensure himself an extended look in spring training next year and, at the very least, ensure he makes another minor league level jump for a fifth consecutive year.
The bottom line: Flores is a kid who currently possesses still developing stuff that fringy for the major league level. He’s a four pitch pitcher who has always had spectacular control which has made him one of the stingiest pitchers in the organization when it comes to allowing walks. This skill set allowed him to total more strikeouts than IP in A+ in 2014 along with a minuscule walk total. With a 42/15 K/BB, has continued to have a great hold on his stuff this year. While his high BABIP and FIP prove he has been fortunate to post the ERA and H/9 which rank near the top of the Southern League, while his early call to the majors has undoubtedly been aided by circumstance and while his first stint with the Marlins will likely be a short one, Flores has earned the opportunity and will provide a look in to the not-so-distant future of potential rotation arms. With a good showing, he can imprint his name in to the forefront of the front office’s minds.