Marlins behind Puk amid tough start: 'Got to figure it out'

April 19th, 2024

CHICAGO -- After a bout with the flu sidelined him for 10 days, returned to the mound Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

But in Miami’s series opener in Chicago, Puk’s challenging stretch to open the 2024 season -- in which he has converted from a reliever to starting pitcher -- continued. The lefty surrendered seven runs and seven hits, both career highs, and three walks, in the Marlins’ 8-3 loss at Wrigley Field.

“Just kind of one of those days,” Puk said. “Just trying to get those outs and couldn't.”

After coming out of the bullpen his first four Major League seasons, spanning 142 appearances, the Marlins stretched Puk out and transitioned him to the starting rotation this past offseason.

It’s not totally unfamiliar territory for the 28-year-old, who made 42 career starts in the Minor Leagues, but the results haven’t been there in the early going this season. Puk has a 9.22 ERA in four starts. He’s allowed 19 hits and 17 runs (14 earned) in 13 2/3 innings, with 17 walks compared to 12 strikeouts.

Manager Skip Schumaker said the Marlins have not had any conversations with Puk about moving back to the bullpen.

“No, we haven't had that conversation yet,” Schumaker said. “Just gotta be a little bit better and give us a chance each time out. He’s had a couple rough starts, but we’ve got to figure out a way to get him back on track.”

That’s certainly true considering the Marlins’ need for starting rotation help with several starters sidelined with injuries. Sandy Alcantara is on the 60-day IL recovering from Tommy John surgery he underwent last fall. Eury Pérez underwent season-ending Tommy John earlier this month. Braxton Garrett is on the 15-day IL with a shoulder injury.

Max Meyer impressed in three starts to begin the season but the Marlins are monitoring his workload.

Every team needs an abundance of pitching depth to get through the six-month, 162-game season, and with Puk’s experience starting in the Minors, stretching him out made sense. And while Spring Training results are not predictive of regular-season outcomes, the Marlins liked what they saw from him (1.32 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts).

“He had a really good Spring Training,” Schumaker said. “We were hoping to build off that into the season. Obviously, the results haven't been there for him or for us. We need our starters to get deeper in games. Last series was really good for our guys, and we are hoping to build on that. He was obviously under the weather and pretty sick for a few days.”

Puk’s long layoff before Friday’s start could be part of the explanation for his struggles. The velocities on his main three pitches -- four-seam fastball, sweeper and sinker -- were all down from their season averages. He threw 70 pitches, including just 40 strikes.

• Four-seamer: 91.7 mph Friday, 93.6 mph season average
• Sweeper: 79.4 mph Friday, 81.0 mph season average
• Sinker: 91.9 mph Friday, 93.7 mph season average

Puk pointed to the first inning as one of his biggest issues so far this season. He has issued five walks, tied for his most in any inning, and allowed four runs, tied with the third for his second-most surrendered in any inning.

“The first inning for me has been the hardest to get through,” Puk said. “It's continued being a problem. I’ve got to figure that out.”

The Cubs scored a pair of runs in the first inning Friday. Nico Hoerner hit a leadoff double, and Puk then walked Patrick Wisdom. Cody Bellinger followed with an RBI single, and Dansby Swanson later added an RBI double, as Miami fell behind 2-0.

Nick Madrigal reached on a hit by pitch in the second and scored on another Hoerner double. Bellinger singled to open the third, and Puk walked Christopher Morel and Swanson to load bases. All three came around to score, with the help of a fly ball double from Miguel Amaya that kept on carrying to center field on a windy day in Chicago.

It’s still April, and it’s only been four starts. But the Marlins need more from Puk and for him to get on track.

“We’ve got to figure it out, because we’ve just got to get more than four innings. We’re getting that kind of 7-0 hole, and it's tough to come back from it at this level, especially against a good team like that,” Schumaker said. “We just got to get him back in the rotation because we planned on him being here. So, we're going to try to get him going.”