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Mar 27, 2024 6:17 am

Marlins limp into opener vs. Pirates with banged-up rotation

marlins, luzardo

The Miami Marlins’ selection of an Opening Day starter to face the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday afternoon was largely a process of elimination.

The Marlins will begin the season with four starting pitchers on the injured list: 2022 National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara as well as young standouts Eury Perez, Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garrett.

Miami, though, is so deep in starting pitching that three elite-type young arms remain available: Jesus Luzardo, Trevor Rogers and Max Meyer.

Marlins manager Skip Schumaker selected Luzardo, a lefty, to start on Thursday.

Luzardo set personal bests last season for wins and starts, going 10-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 32 starts.

His fastball averaged 96.7 mph, making it one of the most explosive pitches in baseball. Luzardo also posted a 1.47 ERA in his final three starts of 2023.

Luzardo has faced the Pirates just once in his career, when he allowed only two hits and one walk in seven-plus scoreless innings last June 23. He struck out nine batters but did not get a decision.

The Marlins, who surprised the baseball world by making the 2023 playoffs as a wild-card team, lost All-Star slugger Jorge Soler to the San Francisco Giants as a free agent.

Miami will miss Soler’s team-high 36 homers, but every other starting hitter is back. That includes Luis Arraez, who has won two American League and NL batting titles the past two years; Jazz Chisholm, who has speed and power; and sluggers Josh Bell and Jake Burger. Last season, Chisholm belted 19 homers and stole 22 bases, Burger hit 34 homers, and Bell finished with 22 dingers.

“I feel really good about our team,” Marlins president of baseball operations Peter Bendix said.

The Pirates will give the ball to right-hander Mitch Keller, who broke into the majors in 2019 but is coming off his first winning season.

He set a career high in wins, going 13-9 with a 4.21 ERA in 32 starts while earning a spot on the NL All-Star team. If nothing else, Keller has been durable, making 61 starts over the past two years. The Pirates rewarded him with a five-year, $77 million contract extension last month.

Keller, who has mastered what has been described as a “filthy” 95 mph sinker as well as a sweeper that breaks as much as 2 feet, is 1-0 with a 2.66 ERA in five career starts against the Marlins.

He heads a rotation that last year ranked just 11th in the NL in ERA (4.88).

The Pirates, who haven’t won a division title since 1992 and haven’t earned a playoff berth since 2015, are banking on their defense as they look to improve on last season’s 76-86 record.

Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes won a Gold Glove last year, and center fielder Michael A. Taylor earned a Gold Glove in 2021 while with the Kansas City Royals. The Pirates also have high hopes for second baseman Jared Triolo, who won a minor league Gold Glove as a third baseman last year.

“Defense — that’s what’s going to win games for us,” Hayes said. “Being ‘extraordinary at the ordinary’ is a term I like to use. Make all the routine plays — and then whatever extra plays we can make is a bonus.

“Good teams hardly make errors.”

–Field Level Media

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