The right-hander who threw a no-hitter on the final day of the regular season for the Miami Marlins might be only the third- or fourth-best young arm in their rotation.
That's how good the Marlins' pitching is.
Henderson Alvarez no-hit the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, and the Marlins scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth to win 1-0. The victory provided an exhilarating finish to a dismal season for the Marlins, who lost 100 games and had the worst offense in the majors by far.
Their shortcomings overshadowed a talented pitching staff that won raves, if not a lot of games, stirring hope for a quick turnaround.
"They're not going to be far away, with the pitching I've seen," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm sure they're probably looking for a little more offense, but I'm really impressed with their pitching. And one thing about it, if you've got pitching, you've always got a chance."
Leyland offered his positive appraisal even before Alvarez no-hit his team. The 23-year-old Venezuelan finished 5-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 17 starts after missing the first three months of the season because of shoulder inflammation.
Alvarez was one of four starters 23 or younger with an ERA below 3.80. Nathan Eovaldi (4-6, 3.39), Jacob Turner (3-8, 3.74) and NL rookie of the year contender Jose Fernandez (12-6, 2.19) provide the potential foundation for a rotation for the next several years, at least.
"A lot of teams don't have the depth of pitching we do," manager Mike Redmond said. "Now it's just a matter of trying to fill in the pieces to help us offensively."
Feeble bats doomed the Marlins to their third consecutive last-place finish in the NL East. They were last in the majors in runs, home runs, batting, slugging and on-base percentage, scoring less than even their 1993 expansion team. They had the worst slugging percentage in the majors at three positions — first base, third base and catcher.
The Marlins' ineptitude drew international notoriety, with the South China Daily reporting on their 100th defeat last week. The franchise's loss total rose for the fourth consecutive season, and attendance slumped to last in the NL, even with the Marlins playing in a sparkling ballpark that opened just 18 months ago.
"We probably did how everyone expected us to do, except in the clubhouse," slugger Giancarlo Stanton said. "That's not a positive."
Owner Jeffrey Loria ordered another end-of-the-season shake-up, firing president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest. Michael Hill was promoted to replace Beinfest, and Dan Jennings was promoted to general manager.
Both have been with Loria and the Marlins since before their 2003 World Series championship season, so it's unlikely any change in approach will be dramatic. Miami will remain among baseball's thriftiest teams, making it difficult to achieve a significant offensive upgrade.
"We're never going to have a big-market payroll," Jennings said. "We didn't have it in '03 when we won. But what we did have was a pipeline of players. You have to grow your own if you're going to be successful, and we have a lot of those pieces in place."
Young outfielders could provide more punch. Rookie Christian Yelich led the team in batting at .288 in 62 games, and rookie Marcell Ozuna hit .265 with 32 RBIs in 70 games. More offense is also expected from 24-year-old shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who filled the Marlins' brief highlight reel with his defensive gems.
Miami needs someone in their order to protect Stanton, who was pitched around all season. After winning the NL slugging title in 2012, he hit only .249 with 24 homers and 62 RBIs.
Stanton is only 23 and considered among the most dangerous hitters in baseball. He's still three seasons away from free agency but already the subject of trade speculation because he's due for a big raise this offseason when he becomes eligible for arbitration.
Stanton said he would receptive to a long-term contract offer from the Marlins, but they have yet to approach him. Hill declined to say whether they will this winter, but indicated Stanton will be back in 2014.
"The big man is a big part of our future," Hill said. "He will be a big part of what we do moving forward."