CHICAGO — The future is bright for the Marlins’ rotation.
After spending almost two months on the injured list with right elbow tendinitis, Edward Cabrera was back at his best in the Marlins’ 2-1 loss against the Cubs on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The hard-throwing right-hander threw five hitless innings while walking three and striking out eight.
“Very happy to come back here,” Cabrera said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “I [have] wanted to be back since day one. It took me a little while to just do my rehab, do all the exercises and get strong to get back to the team. But happy to be here.”
Cabrera returned with one of the best starts of his young career. He tied his personal best with 17 whiffs and finished one punchout shy of his career high.
“Cabrera was good,” manager Don Mattingly said. “I thought he was aggressive. Early, a little bit off command wise. But as the game went on, it looked like he got better. He kept blending the offspeed stuff. Couldn’t ask for much more than that for a guy coming back off rehab.”
The Marlins knew Cabrera wasn’t going to go deep into the game. He threw 61 pitches in his final rehab start last week and was coming off his second IL stint of the season. He missed the beginning of the season with a right biceps injury.
So the team was going to be “cautious” with him on the mound, keeping Cabrera’s long-term health in mind.
“First comes first, you got to protect the kid,” Mattingly said. “He was at  pitches. He’s not going to be able to go out and finish the inning. At that point, we’re going to protect him first. But this outing gets him a chance that [if] his pitch count changes next time out, it’d be further down the road.”
With five hitless innings, Cabrera once again showcased his potential in the Majors and showed why he entered the season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 34 overall prospect. He hasn’t been without his hiccups — after making his Major League debut last August, Cabrera threw five-plus innings once in his seven starts and finished the season with a 5.81 ERA — but he’s shown improvement. In three of his four starts this season, Cabrera has gone at least five innings and given up one or zero runs.
“I think it’s a guy that’s been here,” Mattingly said of what’s been different for Cabrera. “Obviously he took some lumps last year. He’s been a little steadier this year about just using all his pitches. He’s kind of changed a little bit. He’s using his two-seam and the four-seam, the changeup and using his curveball at times. He’s using the whole mix. I think that’s one of the things that’s been better.”
With Cabrera getting more starts under his belt in the big leagues, the 24-year-old’s comfort level with his pitches is improving. Of his 17 whiffs on 34 swings against Chicago, three came on his four-seam fastball — which topped out at 98.3 mph — four on his changeup, five on his slider and five on his curveball.
“Just keep trusting my pitches,” Cabrera said when asked what he did differently after launching two walks in the first inning. “Even though I was making some mistakes, I just was trying again, over and over, trying to get the grip from the fastball and just trusting what I got.”
As Cabrera continues to grow and learn in the Majors, he can give Miami’s rotation a big boost in the future. The group already features the likes of young workhorses Sandy Alcantara and Pablo López, who are each just 26 years old. But it’s the up-and-coming pitchers — Cabrera, No. 19 overall prospect Max Meyer and Eury Pérez (No. 14) — who show just how deep the Marlins’ starting rotation could be down the road.
“I don’t want to feel that fully comfortable,” Cabrera said. “I try to keep working.”