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The skinny on Marlins pitching staff; UM/NCAA update; Canes, Heat, Dolphins chatter

Note: This buzz column leads with the second of our two-part series on the Marlins, aimed to coincide with the start of spring training and to familiarize readers with the team. If you are angry with the Marlins to the point you have lost interest, or didn't have interest to begin with, then skip down to chatter for Canes, Heat and Dolphins.



Marlins pitching chatter:

### With Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Anibal Sanchez gone, here’s what’s left of a starting rotation that reported to spring training last week:

An ace (Ricky Nolasco) who allowed the third-most hits and fourth-most runs in the National League in 2012; a No. 3 starter (Henderson Alvarez, via Toronto) who relinquished the second-most hits and suffered the AL’s fourth-most losses; and a No. 4 starter (Nate Eovaldi) who suffered the NL’s fifth-most losses. In fact, only one projected starter (Jacob Turner) allowed a batting average below .275.

You want the glass-half-full view instead? Here it is: Jose Fernandez, MLB.com’s No. 7 prospect, could arrive in Miami by July after dominating A-ball last year (14-1, 1.75 ERA, 158 strikeouts, 89 hits in 134 innings).

Jack McKeon said Fernandez will be a No. 1 starter and Larry Beinfest said: “You won’t find better power [pitching] in the minors than Fernandez. I can’t remember any guy in our system” who had stats as dominating.

More glass-half-full: The Marlins should snag a decent prospect or two by trading Nolasco this summer.… Some scouts believe Eovaldi and Alvarez have sharp enough stuff to become solid starters…. The Marlins have three highly-regarded lefties on the way: Justin Nicolino (72nd among all prospects by MLB.com), Andrew Heaney (81st) and Adam Conley.

And there’s this: Turner has the Marlins excited  because of his excellent work after the Detroit trade. Ignore the 1-4 record. He had a sterling ERA (3.38) and batting average against (.208; .189 vs. lefties).

“He still needs polishing, but we really like him,” said a general manager from another NL team. “He can be a middle of the rotation starter, maybe better.”

### Former manager Ozzie Guillen believed Eovaldi had more electric stuff than Turner, but the results didn’t show it. Eovaldi allowed 97 base-runners in 63 innings in 12 Marlins starts (3-7, 4.43 ERA) after going 1-6 for the Dodgers. Batters hit .284 against him, lefties .333.

"I don’t love his arm action; it seems like a strain for him to throw,” the opposing GM said. “Maybe he’s a third or fourth starter.”

But Eovaldi said he corrected a mechanical issue late last season, and the Marlins believe he’s ready to blossom. “You know how people say God came down and blessed you with a lightning bolt as an arm?” catcher Rob Brantly said. “You can say that about Eovaldi.”

### The Marlins believe Alvarez also is better than his 2012 work in Toronto suggests (9-14, 4.85). But this is alarming: He allowed an absurd 270 base-runners in 187 innings -- including 29 homers, a .290 average, and .342 against cleanup hitters.

So why do the Marlins like him? “He has explosive stuff at times and a complete repertoire,” Beinfest said. “He just needs to throw strikes.”

### The Marlins expect more from Nolasco than he provided last year (12-13, 4.48) -- both to stabilize the staff and boost his value, with Nolasco expecting to be traded by July. He again allowed too many base-runners (261 in 191 innings), including 9 hits in 14 at-bats with the bases loaded.

### Wade LeBlanc (2-5, 3.76 ERA) is the favorite for the fifth spot, but don’t rule out Brad Hand (11-7, 4.00 at Triple A), Alex Sanabia (6-7, 3.93 at Triple A) or non-roster invitees John Maine (41-36 lifetime, but out of the majors since 2011), Kevin Slowey (39-29) and Mitch Talbot (12-19).

### The Marlins are comfortable with Steve Cishek closing after last season, when he had 15 saves and allowed a .183 average with runners in scoring position. But bullpen depth beyond Cishek is worrisome.

The Marlins believe 6-11 Jon Rauch will be better as a set-up man than closer. His career saves-to-blown-saves ratio (62 to 31) is abysmal, but batters hit .209 off him with the Mets last year. “His stuff is still good and he knows the division well,” Beinfest said…

The Marlins once thought Ryan Webb and Mike Dunn might be future closers. Forget that. Webb was battered -- .295 average against (up 40 points from 2011) and .338 at Marlins Park. Opponents’ batting averages against Dunn has risen annually - .200 to .211 to .224 to .283, and control remains an issue at times. “Their pure stuff is so good, but it’s time for them to do it,” Beinfest said.

### The Marlins hope Chad Qualls (51 career saves) has something left at 34, and keep an eye on hard-throwing right-handers Jose Ceda, Evan Reed and A.J. Ramos (36 hits, 89 strikeouts in 68 innings at Double A). Marlins players rave about Ramos’ stuff.

### Bottom line: “If our pitching produces the way we think it can, we’re going to be OK,” Beinfest said. But at least two and maybe four members of the likely 2015 rotation will begin the year in the minors.


### Though the NCAA hasn’t yet publicly released results of the investigation into its improper handling of a portion of the UM case, an NCAA source says UM has a good sense of what’s in the report, including confirmation of the NCAA agreeing to pay Nevin Shapiro’s attorney for her legal services.

UM and the NCAA spoke last week about two issues they’re still debating --- how the NCAA’s misconduct will affect the forthcoming notice of allegations and how the case will proceed from here.

UM continues to push for a settlement --- without having to appear before the infractions committee –-but NCAA president Mark Emmert knows he needs the blessing of two NCAA committees to take that highly unusual step, and whether that will happen is still very much up in the air. 

One person in contact with the NCAA said a settlement cannot be ruled out, though several NCAA experts (such as John Infante) have said it's unlikely because there's no precedent for a settlement in a recruiting case. Remember, Emmert bypassed the usual protocol only in the Penn State case, which involved Jerry Sandusky's child molestation.

The 35 presidents on those two committees could balk at a UM settlement. But some believe they could be pursuaded if Emmert makes a convincing case why this matter should be resolved quickly. Emmert also could tell UM it must go before the infractions committee but instruct the infractions committee to expedite the process.

“Hopefully, we’ll get to a conclusion here very quickly,” UM coach Al Golden said.

And how long could this go on if the NCAA doesn’t settle?

For perspective, consider that after receiving its allegations in November 2011, Central Florida didn’t get its penalties for nearly nine months (July 31). UCF appealed its one-year football bowl ban in September, and is still awaiting a decision – 15 ½ months after getting its allegations.

That’s an absolute worst-case scenario UM could face if it appeals --- a saga that drags into a fourth year and past next February's football signing day. But Donna Shalala told Trustees recently that this NCAA mess cannot affect another football and basketball recruiting class.

By the way, UM has no current plans to sue the NCAA, though it has not been ruled out. And UM expects to receive its notice of allegations very quickly after the NCAA publicly releases the report on the investigation into the NCAA's misconduct in the UM case. 

### UM forward Julian Gamble, on the difference between coach Jim Larranaga and predecessor Frank Haith: When players make mistakes, Haith would need to reach “a boiling point, where we can’t take it anymore” before correcting it.

By contrast, “Coach L won’t take it once. If we’re not cutting hard enough or fumbling the ball or [whatever], he’ll stop practice and make us do it over. [But] his demeanor is calm and poised.”

### Though four of the Heat's five most effective lineups this season have had just one natural power rotation player -- and though that lineup helped Miami win a title -- doubters remain, even beyond Charles Barkley. When the Heat goes small against big teams, “it helps you,” Dwight Howard said. “[You] have to pick them apart.”

Lakers forward Antawn Jamison insisted “there’s an opportunity to beat that lineup – for us, if Pau Gasol is healthy, and Chicago with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. But only two teams can put that big lineup out there to [beat] Miami’s small lineup.” Barkley includes the Spurs in that group.

### Not only is LeBron James shooting an incredible 56.5 percent, but players he’s defending are shooting just 37.6 – behind only Paul Pierce among qualifying small forwards, according to synergysportstech.com.

### Several Dolphins people, including Ryan Tannehill, have reached out to Matt Moore, hoping he will re-sign. Keep in mind that Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner is a big fan of Moore, who will test free agency to see if there's a starting job available in a situation that's appealing to him. But he hasn't ruled out coming back to Miami. Kyle Orton earns - on average - $3.5 million per year to back up Tony Romo in Dallas, so quality backup quarterbacks like Moore aren't cheap.