Around the Horn: New approach for rotation

After devastating loss of ace, Marlins hope for durability from starters, with bolstered 'pen as security

Around the Horn: New approach for rotation

Spring Training for the Marlins gets underway with pitchers' and catchers' workouts beginning on Feb. 14 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. As the countdown continues, MLB.com is taking a position-by-position look at how Miami's 2017 squad is shaping up. This is the first in a multipart Around the Horn series that will run periodically until camp starts. First up: Rotation.

MIAMI -- The absence is so glaring and the sense of loss is so immense, but the Marlins are now prepared to push forward in 2017 with a rotation that no longer has All-Star ace Jose Fernandez.

Fernandez's death in a boating accident on Sept. 25 has caused the organization to rethink its entire pitching approach. With a thin starting-pitching market, the Marlins instead decided to strengthen the depth of the bullpen and target starting pitchers with a history of durability.

JDF16 Foundation

If it works, the strategy could become groundbreaking, because ideally, and traditionally, starting pitching sets the tone.

"The loss of Jose puts us in a different spot, because we've lost one of the best pitchers in the game and we're not going to be able to replace that," manager Don Mattingly said at the Winter Meetings.

The Marlins addressed their rotation with two free-agent signings: former Royals right-hander Edinson Volquez and lefty Jeff Locke, previously with the Pirates.

They join left-handers Wei-Yin Chen and Adam Conley and right-hander Tom Koehler.

Miami now has a rotation without a true ace or an obvious Opening Day starter.

In the past, Chen and Volquez have pitched at the top of the rotation, and Locke was an All-Star in 2013. Conley has tremendous upside, and Koehler has been durable throughout his career.

Koehler on improving in 2017

The rotation also has three left-handers.

But the Marlins aren't asking their starters to become pitchers they aren't. The hope is they stay healthy and do their part, which is to give the team a chance to win every game.

If they can go five or six innings, the bullpen will be looked upon to pick up the rest. Seven innings or more will be a bonus.

Looking strictly at innings pitched, Volquez threw 189 1/3 innings in 2016, and Fernandez paced Miami with 182 1/3 innings.

Obviously, Fernandez brought stellar performances. He was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA, and he set a franchise record with 253 strikeouts. The Marlins, however, kept Fernandez's innings down, because he was building back up after Tommy John surgery.

The task for the starters now is to go as many innings as possible.

Miami's projected starting five combined for 69 games at six or more innings, with one complete game -- which was turned in by Locke, against the Marlins, on May 30.

Locke's three-hit shutout

Volquez, who was 10-11 with a 5.37 ERA, made 34 starts. Of those, 21 were six innings or more, and five went at least seven.

Locke made 19 starts for the Pirates, with 10 lasting at least six innings. Koehler went six or more innings in 17 of his 33 starts, while Conley recorded 10 of 25 and Chen 11 of 22 in that category.

"We have to be creative in the sense of creating a better 'pen that can shorten games and things like that," Mattingly said. "That's easier said than done, because when you start thinking about trying to throw that many innings over 162 [games] -- the playoffs are different, because you can do it for short bursts because you have off-days and things like that. But 162 puts in you a different situation."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.