If the past four starts are any indication, a rejuvenated Brad Hand is on his way to a promising big league career.
The 24-year-old left-hander has overcome a lot the past few years. He's dealt with issues with command, which led to him shuffling in and out of the rotation and moving up and down from the Majors to Minor Leagues.
The Marlins moved him into the rotation right before the All-Star break, and he has picked things up the past few weeks. Over his last four starts, he has gone 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA over 27 2/3 innings. He gave up two runs in 6 1/3 innings with four strikeouts his last time out.
"He pitched really well in Pittsburgh," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "He's really responded to this opportunity. He's come back. I know going forward, it's comforting knowing that this guy is pitching well. He's more confident. I think we all saw the stuff that he had and believed in his stuff. It was just a matter of him doing it at the big league level."
Hand's counterpart in Sunday's series finale has done it at the big league level consistently for some time now. Reds starter Johnny Cueto enters the game with 11 straight starts of allowing three runs or fewer, going seven or more innings in six of the outings.
In his last start, Cueto tossed a complete game, allowing two runs to earn his 13th win this season.
"I was being aggressive," Cueto said.
"He's been great for us the entire season," Reds catcher Brayan Pena added afterward. "Today, we needed him a lot -- especially the way we played yesterday that we weren't too proud of. Johnny was Johnny once again."
Meanwhile, out of options, Hand has been with the big league club all season, although he did spend time on the disabled list with a right ankle sprain.
"We're now seeing him take that next step forward and show what he can do," Redmond said. "He has shown the kind of stuff that he has. More importantly, be consistent. That's what you need to win ballgames at the Major League level, it's be consistent."
Marlins: Securing rotation has been struggle
With Brad Penny added to the mix, the Marlins now have used 13 different starting pitchers this year, which establishes a franchise high for a season. The 2013 and '02 squads each ran out 12.
It's not an ideal situation to have that much instability in the rotation. But after Jose Fernandez underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in May, the team has scrambled to find dependable arms.
Hand, for instance, has made the most of his opportunity. Henderson Alvarez, an All-Star, is currently on the DL with right shoulder inflammation and is scheduled to throw off the mound Sunday. If that goes well, he projects to return on Thursday in the series opener with the D-backs. Jarred Cosart (left lower back discomfort) was scratched from a start last Thursday at Pittsburgh, but he's recovering nicely and threw off the mound Saturday.
Cosart never went on the DL, and he's scheduled to start Tuesday at home against the Cardinals. The Marlins haven't jumped ahead and declared what they will do when Cosart and Alvarez are back. They are not looking to go with a six-man rotation.
Reds: Pena could return to catch Cueto
Manager Bryan Price hopes that Pena will be able to take his regular turn behind the plate with Cueto on the mound Sunday.
Pena's status remains up in the air after he left Friday's game before the third inning when a tight left hamstring that had been bothering him grew a little tighter. The catcher-first baseman was not in Saturday's starting lineup, but he did pinch-hit, delivering a single in the eighth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Marlins.
"It necessitated a little extra TLC," Price said. "We're still hoping that he'll be able to catch tomorrow, but we'll have to wait and see what kind of progress he makes. He'll go out there and hit and do all that stuff."
• In surrendering a first-inning home run to Reds outfielder Jay Bruce on Saturday, the Marlins' pitching staff ended a stretch of 11 straight games without allowing a homer.
• Far and away, Garrett Jones has faced Cueto more than any other Marlins hitter. In 42 at-bats, Jones has hit .286 (12-for-42) with a homer and four doubles, while drawing four walks.
Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.