February 3, 2023

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Elieser optioned to Triple-A to 'get refocused'

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MIAMI — Following another rough start from Elieser Hernandez, the Marlins optioned the 27-year-old right-hander to Triple-A Jacksonville on Saturday afternoon.

Hernandez, who signed a $1.33 million contract for 2022 in his first year of arbitration eligibility, had surrendered the most home runs (18) in the Majors and had posted the second-highest ERA (6.75) among MLB pitchers with at least 45 innings this season. In Friday’s 15-6 loss to San Francisco, Miami went with an opener to work in Hernandez’s favor. Instead, he gave up four homers in 4 1/3 innings.

“Elieser’s pretty quiet,” manager Don Mattingly said. “I thought he reacted OK. I think for us, it’s a matter of getting him reset. A starting pitcher that’s struggling in between starts, that gets to be tough, because you’ve got to wait four days. And then you get back out there, you’re working on something, you think it’s going to go good, and if it doesn’t …

“This has been building. He hasn’t been able to gain any traction through the course of the season, and we felt like the best thing for him and us in the long run is to get him down, get him reset, let him get refocused. Go down and continue to work on things without the pressure necessarily being in a big league game. Even though in the Minor Leagues you want to go perform, but it’s not the same. You’re down there to work on something, to get your rhythm back, to get your confidence back. And that’s what we hope happens.”

According to Mattingly, there has been a disparity between how Hernandez has looked in his bullpen sessions compared to on the mound for a game. After his Friday start, Hernandez said, “Everything is mental. As long as you stay calm, you can do everything.” 

It all comes back to location, which Hernandez had continued to pinpoint as the root of his struggles. Since he doesn’t throw fast — his average velocity on the four-seam fastball (91.4 mph) ranks in the 23rd percentile — he must hit his spots. Hernandez works off the top of the zone, but when the pitch doesn’t reach the right height, it finds opposing hitters’ barrels.

“It was location all the way,” Hernandez said following Friday’s start. “Every time I was able to get some good pitches, I was able to get the outs.”

There is no timetable on Hernandez’s expected return, per Mattingly, but Hernandez’s history gives the organization belief he can turn it around. Over the offseason, clubs inquired about Hernandez, who had pitched in just 17 games (77 1/3 innings) from 2020-21 due to injuries. During that span, he posted a 3.84 ERA and a 113 ERA+. Despite relying heavily on a fastball/slider mix, his strikeouts per nine innings rate was 9.2 or higher from 2019-21. In Friday’s outing, he struck out seven batters.

“We definitely think he’s a Major League pitcher, and we’ve seen it in the past he has been very good,” Mattingly said. “Just right now, it’s not working. So it’s a matter of getting down there again, just getting him going, get his confidence back. And then move forward.”

On that note, it looks like the Marlins will slot left-hander Braxton Garrett, who was in the clubhouse prior to Saturday’s game, into the rotation. However, no corresponding roster move has been made. Miami’s No. 21 prospect dealt with some inflammation in the back of his shoulder that briefly sidelined him in Triple-A. In his return to the Jumbo Shrimp last Sunday, he tossed five scoreless innings. Garrett has a 4.89 ERA in nine career MLB starts.

Considered the strength of the club, Miami’s starting staff has been rather top heavy so far this season. Sandy Alcantara (1.81) and Pablo López (1.83) entered Saturday with the second- and third-lowest ERAs in the National League, respectively. But Hernandez and Trevor Rogers, the reigning NL ROY runner-up, have been inconsistent. Jesús Luzardo has been out since May 27, and his fill-in Cody Poteet went on the injured list last Sunday.

Outside of Alcantara, López and Friday’s opener, the rotation has a 4.56 ERA. So Miami recalled Edward Cabrera (MLB Pipeline’s No. 48 overall prospect), and he went six scoreless innings in his season debut on Wednesday.

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