'He's been waiting for this': Maldonado debuts in series opener

April 27th, 2024

MIAMI -- Years from now, Marlins right-hander will most remember warming up and coming off the field during his Major League debut. Until the roar that followed an inning-ending double play to cap his start, he had no idea where the family section at loanDepot park was.

“I heard them going crazy, and looking up and seeing my friends and family and fiancée cheer, it meant a lot,” Maldonado said, “I gave them a point so they knew I saw them. So that was really cool.”

Maldonado tossed three scoreless innings as the opener of a bullpen game, but right-hander Calvin Faucher gave up Joey Meneses’ go-ahead two-run single in the eighth in Friday night’s 3-1 loss to the Nationals.

Ranked as Miami’s No. 18 prospect, Maldonado struck out two batters and worked around three singles in a 36-pitch outing. Since he was so efficient, manager Skip Schumaker elected to send him back out for the third despite facing the order for a second time. It panned out, as Maldonado induced a 1-6-3 double play that led to the cheers and his own fist pump.

Among the loudest were his parents, Ovidio and Julie.

Since Anthony was 4 years old, Ovidio would take him to the park near their home in Wellington, Fla., on a daily basis for over three hours -- except on Sundays. That dedication led to Anthony attending Bethune-Cookman, where Miami would select him from in the 11th round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

“Baseball runs in the family,” Ovidio said. “My father played for St. Louis. I played for St. Louis. As soon as he grabbed the baseball, I knew. I could just see it.”

“I couldn't be more proud,” said Julie, who took off work early as a nurse and flew in from Atlanta. “I’m absolutely thrilled that Anthony tonight was living out his dream. It was the culmination of all of his years of hard work. He’s been waiting for this, we’ve been waiting for this.”

Though Maldonado hadn’t started since the Florida Complex League in 2021, he was a three-year starter in college. The coaching staff told him to treat the situation like he was coming out of the bullpen, and it worked. He kept his routine and excitement -- but not too much to his detriment. Maldonado had completed three innings just once before in his professional career on Aug. 27, 2022, with Double-A Pensacola.

Familiar territory also benefited Maldonado, who threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts for Team Puerto Rico against Nicaragua at the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

“I would say it helped a lot,” Maldonado said. “This wasn’t really my debut at loanDepot. I had a sold out crowd in ‘23 at the Classic, and that really helped me adjust to this a lot easier.”

A little over a month ago, Maldonado just missed out on one of the final Opening Day bullpen spots. In the meantime, the organization told him to sharpen up all three of his pitches, in particular a fastball that had a new grip.

In Friday’s series opener, Maldonado heavily featured his 70-grade slider (66.7 percent), followed by the sinker (30.6 percent) and cutter (2.8 percent).

“He stuck with his strengths, and that’s the slider,” Schumaker said. “The slider’s real. He played a little bit with the cutter. He has enough fastball to keep you off guard. But lefties, righties, it doesn’t matter. He’s got a real slider. We knew that in Spring Training, and obviously with video last year that he was going to be one of the guys that was going to be called up eventually this year. His demeanor was great.”

Despite Maldonado’s success, don’t expect to see an encore any time soon.

The circumstances of Maldonado’s debut weren’t ideal. Miami went with a second straight bullpen game after placing left-hander Jesús Luzardo on the 15-day injured list with left elbow tightness. Maldonado became the ninth starter used by the Marlins this season -- tied with the Red Sox and Brewers for most in the Majors.

“If you're doing bullpen days in April, you’re going to really have trouble with your bullpen,” Schumaker said. “We’ve got to get some starting pitching, get some length into games. They’re nice every now and then to kind of reset a rotation if you’re trying to give a break to some guys, but if you keep putting that on your bullpen, it’s going to catch up to you in July and August. I don’t feel like it’s the play. Last year in September, we kind of had to and kind of had to today, but I don’t feel like that’s the play moving forward.”