MIAMI -- Returning to a pitching-prominent organization has long been the Marlins' objective. For years, stockpiling as many quality arms as possible has been the plan. But the results didn't always follow.
Right now, the franchise is seeing progress -- at all levels. The strong pitching being seen at the big league level is also mirrored in the Minor League system.
Pitching carried the Marlins in their 8-1 road trip that wrapped up with a 5-3 win in 12 innings over the Astros on Wednesday. During the three-city, nine-game swing, Miami pitchers combined for a 2.07 ERA, allowing 20 earned runs in 87 innings.
As the season wears on, invariably, there will be a need for pitching depth to either help the rotation or bullpen. When that time comes, the organization has some quality reinforcements.
At Triple-A New Orleans, right-hander Alex Sanabia and lefties Wade LeBlanc and Brad Hand all have big league experience.
Sanabia is 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA, with 34 strikeouts and just three walks in 45 2/3 innings. He's been used as a starter, but he has also thrown out of the bullpen.
LeBlanc, who enjoyed a terrific Spring Training, is 1-3 with a 5.05 ERA. The lefty struck out seven on Wednesday, but he saw his ERA rise a bit after giving up nine runs in six innings. In LeBlanc's previous start, he threw seven scoreless innings, striking out six.
Hand is 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA, striking out 37 in 37 2/3 innings.
"I think the pitchers right now have been the strongest suit at New Orleans," said Marlins vice president of player development Marty Scott. "Not only New Orleans, but throughout the whole organization. If you would have told me before the season that all four [Minor League] clubs would have ERAs of under 4.00 and two other clubs under 3.50, I would have been happy with that."
During the road trip, the Marlins promoted two right-handed relievers from New Orleans. Chris Hatcher and Sandy Rosario were brought up after a 12-inning game on Friday at San Diego.
Although neither has been used in a big league game, the two were impressive at New Orleans. Rosario posted nine saves and 14 strikeouts and one walk in 12 2/3 innings. Hatcher, meanwhile, had a 1.20 ERA, striking out 16 while walking three in 15 innings.
It's been a long time since the Marlins have had this kind of big league-ready depth.
In the past, the club found itself rushing prospects out of necessity. But now the franchise is rebranded. There are more revenue streams, courtesy of Marlins Park, and the team was able to sign proven veterans like Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. And they traded for Carlos Zambrano in the offseason.
Adding proven big leaguers reduced the urgency to rush prospects like Sanabia and Hand. Now they are gaining valuable experience developing.
"I think we have some good arms, for the most part," Scott said. "In the short time since I've been here, we have a few position player prospects that I think have a chance to be good. But I think overall, the arms are better than what I expected. The talent is there."
Scott is in his first full season with the Marlins, and he credits the development to having quality arms as well as instruction.
Wayne Rosenthal, the club's Minor League pitching coordinator, is proven at the Minor League and big league levels. He has strong lines of communication with the pitching coaches at New Orleans (Charlie Corbell), Double-A Jacksonville (John Duffy), Class A Jupiter (Joe Coleman) and low Class A Greensboro (Blake McGinley).
"I was impressed in Spring Training, getting to know the pitching coaches better," Scott said. "There is a strong guy at every level."
Also encouraging for the organization is the fact the two of the top prospects are just starting their professional careers. Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley, the team's first- and second-round picks in 2011, are off to fast starts at Greensboro.
Conley, a left-hander from Washington State University, is 3-0 with a 2.76 ERA, with 37 strikeouts and nine walks in 29 1/3 innings.
Fernandez, born in Cuba and groomed in Tampa, Fla., has a 1.75 ERA to go along with a 3-0 record. Overpowering, he has 45 strikeouts and 10 walks in 36 innings.
"He's pitching very well in Greensboro, and we couldn't be more happy with his progress so far," Scott said. "All in all, he's holding his own. [He has a] great attitude, great confidence. I don't think we could be any happier with how he's performed until this point."