Spring competition likely to decide Marlins' fifth starter

Koehler, Hand among five expected candidates for Miami's final rotation spot

Spring competition likely to decide Marlins' fifth starter

MIAMI -- When your division rival makes the biggest free-agent splash of the offseason, you take notice. The Nationals landing Max Scherzer for a reported seven-year, $210 million contract has certainly gained the Marlins' attention.

While the Scherzer deal gives Washington a super rotation, Miami isn't planning on making a serious counterattack by either signing free agent James Shields or making a trade for another starter. The reason is the club is very comfortable with the starting options already assembled.

The Marlins' rotation received a boost with the acquisitions of veterans Mat Latos and Dan Haren. Even though Haren has expressed his desire to pitch on the West Coast, the right-hander is planning on reporting for Spring Training when pitchers and catchers begin workouts on Feb. 20 in Jupiter, Fla.

Miami's projected front four starters are, in no particular order, Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart, Latos and Haren.

Barring anything unforeseen, there should be intense competition for the fifth spot among Tom Koehler, Brad Hand, David Phelps, Andre Rienzo and Justin Nicolino.

Haren heading to Marlins' camp

Here's a breakdown of the favored five:

Koehler
If last season is an indicator, Koehler is the favorite to secure the final spot. The 28-year-old had a breakthrough season in 2014, proving to be durable and dependable, going 10-10 with a 3.81 ERA in 32 starts and 191 1/3 innings. He's also a candidate to be a reliever if a rotation spot is not available.

Hand
Although his Major League record is 5-18 with a 4.42 ERA, Hand has tremendous upside. The lefty was rushed to the big leagues at age 21 in 2011, and he's bounced around in the bullpen and rotation. That has hurt his development. Still, Hand showed promise in 16 starts last year, posting a 4.33 ERA. Out of options, Hand could be a trade candidate in Spring Training if he doesn't win a rotation spot.

Phelps
Acquired from the Yankees in December, Phelps also is versatile enough to start or relieve. He went 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA in 17 starts with New York last year, and he made 15 appearances out of the bullpen.

Rienzo
In December, the Marlins obtained Rienzo from the White Sox, for whom he was 4-5 with a 5.97 ERA in 11 starts. He also made seven relief appearances. The 26-year-old has an option left, so he may open the year at Triple-A New Orleans.

Nicolino
Most likely, the lefty will start off at New Orleans after he was Miami's Minor League Pitcher of the Year on Double-A Jacksonville's championship team. In 2014, Nicolino was 14-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 170 1/3 innings.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.