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MIA@WSH: Eovaldi fans five over 6 1/3 strong frames

Losing Jose Fernandez was undoubtedly a big blow to the upstart Marlins and their young rotation, but ever since the ace underwent Tommy John surgery, the man who opened the season as Miami's No. 2 starter -- righty Nathan Eovaldi -- has stepped up to the tune of three earned runs in 12 1/3 innings over two starts.

The next chapter for Eovaldi in life sans Fernandez comes Sunday when he takes on Aaron Harang and the Braves at Marlins Park. Miami entered the series with a chance to take sole possession of first place in the National League East, but after dropping games Friday and Saturday, the club will just be looking to salvage the weekend.

Because the Marlins were rained out at Washington on Tuesday, they were able to rework their rotation. Eovaldi was maneuvered to get the nod in the series finale on Sunday.

Initially, Randy Wolf was set to face the Braves. Instead, the lefty will go on Monday against the Rays.

The Marlins are seeking consistency from all the starters. They know no one can replace Fernandez, but they are still capable of giving the club quality starts.

"We're looking for consistency," manager Mike Redmond said. "We're looking for continuous quality starts, continuous efforts. At the same time, too, we're still young. I hate to use that word all the time -- young -- but we are. There's going to be a learning curve there. There's going to be some ups and downs with the pitching.

"I just want to see guys to continue to make improvements. I think I've seen that. For these guys, too, this is a big year for a lot of guys. They're going to be in uncharted territory when this year is over, as far as their innings. Probably all of them, if we continue on the pace that we are. That will be big for them to show they can go out and pitch an entire Major League season."

That's certainly true of Eovaldi, who at 67 innings through two months is on pace to blow his career high of 119 1/3 Major League frames in 2012 out of the water. But so far he's proven more than capable, owning a 3.36 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP while striking out four batters for every one he walks.

Harang has similar numbers -- a 3.29 ERA and a 3.74 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- and he has been remarkably consistent. In four of his five May starts, he lasted six innings and gave up two earned runs. Harang has limited opposing teams to two earned runs or fewer in nine of his 11 outings this season. One of those two rough starts came in Miami on April 30, when Harang allowed a season-high nine runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Harang's overall success has been a major boon at the bottom of an Atlanta rotation that was riddled by early injuries. With Harang's help, the Braves are in first in the division despite winning just four of their first 10 series in May.

Marlins: Yelich, Dietrich gaining experience
When you're dealing with young hitters at the top of the order, you will have hot and cold stretches. It's an expected part of the learning process.

There are stretches when Christian Yelich and Derek Dietrich, who regularly bat first and second, get on regularly, then others when they slump.

"We're relying heavily on two young [batters]," Redmond said. "These guys are young. It's their first time through the big leagues, and they're seeing pitchers in certain situations. They're grinding, playing every day. It's all part of playing in the big leagues. There's going to be some ups and downs. They'll go hot for a long period of time. And they'll cool for a period of time. That's part of learning to play at this level."

Both are left-handed hitters with upside. It's not by accident that when they get on, slugger Giancarlo Stanton has been able to do his most damage.

Braves: Heyward dangerous vs. Eovaldi
Jason Heyward has been on a tear in recent weeks, batting .320 with a .395 on-base percentage since May 11, and there's a good chance that will continue Sunday against Eovaldi.

In 19 career plate appearances against the Miami righty, Heyward is 8-for-18 with two doubles, a triple and a walk. His .444 average and 1.140 OPS are by far the highest of any of his teammates vs. their Sunday opponent.

In fact, Heyward is one of just two Braves with more than 10 at-bats and an average above .200 vs. Eovaldi. Andrelton Simmons is the other, batting .273 (3-for-11). Freddie Freeman (.100, 2-for-20), Dan Uggla (.176, 3-for-17) and Justin Upton (.188, 3-for-16) are at the other end of the spectrum.

In his career, Eovaldi has a 1.80 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in eight starts (50 innings) against Atlanta. Braves batters have hit .200 against him.

Worth noting
• Entering Saturday, eight players had as many or more stolen bases than the Marlins, who are last in the Majors with 14. The Braves ranked 23rd with 26 swiped bags, but they stole three more bases Saturday. Comments