Much like their respective ball clubs, Cubs right-hander Scott Feldman and Marlins lefty Wade LeBlanc haven't exactly gotten off to the starts they were hoping for in 2013.
Feldman and LeBlanc will each be vying for his first individual win of the season Friday night when they square off at Marlins Park as Miami looks to avenge Thursday's series-opening loss.
For Feldman, it's been a tough opening month not only because of his 0-3 record, but he's also battled back problems that forced him to miss a start prior to his most recent outing. He returned to the mound Sunday against the Brewers, but made a pair of crucial mistakes in a 4-2 loss.
Feldman first misplayed a grounder back to the mound. Later in the same inning, he served up a decisive three-run homer to Ryan Braun. He finished the day allowing four runs (one earned) off three hits and three walks over five innings, but the most important takeaway was his apparent return to full health.
"Everything's good. I'm feeling healthy," Feldman said. "A little minor tightness, but I took some time, and it felt fine my last time out, so it's going to continue to feel fine for the rest of the year, hopefully."
As for LeBlanc, his season started with a pair of hard-luck losses followed by a pair of rocky outings, resulting in an 0-3 record and 6.27 ERA through four starts.
In his first two outings this season, LeBlanc allowed just two earned runs in each while pitching five and six innings, respectively. His offense, however, provided just three combined runs as he was saddled with a pair of losses.
LeBlanc then turned in one of the worst outings of his career on April 15, conceding seven runs on nine hits over just 3 2/3 innings against the Nationals. In his follow-up performance, LeBlanc lasted just four innings Saturday against the Reds, allowing two runs on seven hits while taking a no-decision.
"It was terrible," LeBlanc said after Saturday's outing. "I needed a lot better bounce-back game after the game against the Nationals. I wasn't able to go out there and give this team what we needed -- which was innings and a chance to win."
With Feldman and LeBlanc each looking to put their respective issues behind them Friday night, it won't hurt that each will be facing a struggling offensive unit. The Marlins enter Friday night's contest hitting a Major League-worst .220 as a team, while the Cubs are hitting just .226.
"Well hopefully we don't keep [our] score low," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "But yeah, I think both teams are obviously kind of doing a little bit of the same thing -- not scoring a lot of runs and playing fairly close games."
Cubs: Stewart trying to find swing at Triple-A
Ian Stewart is seemingly past the strained left quadriceps injury that sidelined him to start the season, but the third baseman is now having a separate problem with Triple-A Iowa.
Stewart, who strained his quad in a Feb. 21 intrasquad game, has struggled mightily at the plate during his rehab stint. He entered Thursday night's game hitting just .083 (2-for-24) with 10 strikeouts through seven games.
"Now it's a matter of him getting his swing together. Now he's pretty much healthy and ready to go," Sveum said. "He's getting to that 20, 30, 40 at-bats like Spring Training, so now it's just a matter of getting him swinging the bat better."
Even if Stewart finds his swing, Sveum said there's no guarantee he will immediately step into a starting role upon his return to the big league club. Luis Valbuena has assumed the majority of starts at third base, tallying a .237 average to go along with four home runs -- including Thursday's game-winner -- and nine RBIs.
"He's got to earn it. He's got to go down there and play well. He's not swinging the bat very well," Sveum said. "Valbuena's one of our most consistent players right now, so it's going to be very hard to move one of our more consistent players out of his spot."
Marlins: Mahoney looking to find power swing
With Joe Mahoney healthy and playing somewhat regularly, Marlins manager Mike Redmond is hoping to soon find out exactly what he has in the rookie first baseman.
Claimed off waivers from the Orioles on Nov. 30, Mahoney brings a powerful left-handed bat to the Marlins order. On Thursday night, Redmond penciled Mahoney into the cleanup spot for the third time this season after the 26-year-old had hit sixth and eighth in the order, respectively, in Tuesday's doubleheader at Minnesota.
"In batting practice, you see the raw power. He's got some pop," Redmond said. "This guy can put it in the seats repeatedly in batting practice. But that's BP. Really, when we evaluate him is going to be in the game and how his at-bats are -- the adjustments as the league adjusts to him. That's the thing we're trying to figure out, what kind of player can this guy be."
Mahoney went 1-for-4 on Thursday and is now hitting .286 in seven games (five starts) this season.
• Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre stole two bases Thursday night to raise his career total to 596, the most among active players.
• LeBlanc has struggled in the first inning this season, allowing eight earned runs and a .522 opponents' batting average (12-for-23) in the opening frame.