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Eovaldi excited about opportunity 2013 presents

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Trading away their top two pitchers has caused many to wonder if the Marlins' rotation will end up being shorthanded.

Clearly, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle are not easy to replace. But the Marlins are in the process of doing so after dealing the two former All-Stars to the Blue Jays in November.

Despite losing a pair of proven competitors and innings eaters, the Marlins believe they have the pieces to eventually become a well-armed pitching staff.

One reason for optimism is the emergence of Nathan Eovaldi, a hard-throwing 22-year-old who built confidence with every outing a year ago.

Acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Hanley Ramirez deal last July 25, Eovaldi projects to fit into the middle of Miami's rotation, behind Ricky Nolasco and Jacob Turner.

Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, brought in from the Blue Jays in November, are the primary candidates for the third and fourth spots. There will be plenty of competition for the fifth starter. Wade LeBlanc, Brad Hand, Tom Koehler, Alex Sanabia and John Maine are among the choices to win the final spot.

For Eovaldi, the numbers last season weren't always ideal. He combined for a 4-13 record with the Dodgers and Marlins. But down the stretch, he began to figure things out. Mainly, he demonstrated better command, and kept hitters off-balance with his off-speed pitches.

"The whole experience last year helped a lot, getting all that experience under my belt," Eovaldi said Saturday afternoon. "Just being able to compete at the big league level for almost a year was huge for me."

The Houston native is in South Florida this weekend to participate as an instructor at Logan Morrison's annual "LoMo Camp for a Cure," a two-day event at the Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla.

The Miami players in attendance at the camp are Morrison, Eovaldi, Juan Pierre, Christian Yelich and Justin Nicolino. Also offering instruction is Jeff Conine, a Marlins' special assistant.

Nearly 100 campers are attending the event, which benefits the American Lung Association.

Marlins pitchers and catchers begin Spring Training workouts on Feb. 12 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.

Before the start of Spring Training, Eovaldi is returning to Texas for a few weeks.

When he returns, he hopes to continue to build on what he learned in '12.

Last year had its share of growing pains for the Marlins, and Eovaldi.

The right-hander's numbers didn't tell the whole story.

Eovaldi opened the season with the Dodgers, going 1-6 with a 4.15 ERA in 10 starts. After being dealt to Miami, he went 3-7 (4.43) in 12 starts.

In September, things began to click. Two performances, both against the Braves, especially stood out.

Eovaldi tossed eight shutout innings on Sept. 18, striking out five in a no-decision at Marlins Park. He followed that up on Sept. 25 by striking out a career high eight in six innings in Atlanta.

Better command of his fastball was the primary reason for a turnaround down the stretch.

"I just have to be able to locate my fastball and use all of my off-speed pitches to my full ability," Eovaldi said. "Get ahead in counts, and get quick outs."

Eovaldi's "pure stuff" can be electric. His fastball averaged 94.1 percent in '12, according to FanGraphs.com. The key is finding the strike zone. As a member of the Marlins, he struck out 44 while walking 27 in 63 innings.

"I felt I was using my changeup a lot better towards the end of my year," he said. "And my curveball also. I can't go out there and just throw my fastball and slider. I've got to be able to use all four of my pitches. When I can use my curveball and changeup more to slow them down, that helps me a lot.

"This is a great opportunity for us. I'm feeling good about it. I'm planning on coming in strong, and ready. Everything has been going great. My arm feels good. I'm ready to go."

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.

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