PITTSBURGH -- Not only were the Marlins unable to snap a season-long skid, but they also lost right-hander Elieser Hernandez to a right quad strain in a 5-3 defeat to the Pirates on Thursday night at PNC Park. Miami dropped its sixth in a row after setup man Dylan Floro allowed three runs in the eighth.
Hernandez, who exited his season debut on April 3 with right biceps inflammation, had made his return from the injured list in the series opener. He singled to open the sixth, then moved to third on Starling Marte's one-out double to right-center. But when Jesús Aguilar sent a chopper to third, Hernandez broke for home and grabbed at his quad as he neared the plate. After crossing home, he dropped to the ground face-first in pain. Assistant athletic trainer Brad LaRosa tended to him, and manager Don Mattingly helped Hernandez off the field as he avoided putting pressure on the leg.
“You feel bad for the kid, ‘cause he's been battling to get back,” Mattingly said. “It's been a long road. He's throwing the ball good. It's just tough. You feel bad for the kid. Obviously it hurts us as a team, but you feel bad for guys when they take so much time to get back. Really frustrating for him.”
Prior to his departure, Hernandez had given up just one run on three hits over five innings with six strikeouts on 68 pitches. Following back-to-back singles in the first, he retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced. The lone mistake was Bryan Reynolds’ leadoff homer in the fourth. Hernandez also helped himself at the plate, executing a sac bunt that led to a run in the third and leading off the sixth with a single.
Miami had been eagerly awaiting Hernandez’s return. With he and top prospect Sixto Sánchez sidelined, the Marlins had been piecing together the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. Eight pitchers, including Hernandez, have had their turn at the back end of the starting staff, combining to go 2-7 with a 4.92 ERA in 19 outings.
A former Rule 5 Draft selection in 2017, Hernandez proved to be a reliable presence in 2020 before a right lat strain ended his season. Though he never completed six innings, he didn’t allow more than three earned runs in all six of his starts.
But this marks the latest in a series of injuries that have kept Hernandez off the mound since joining the Marlins. In 2018, a blister sent him to the injured list. The recurring issue influenced his mechanics this season, helping to trigger the right biceps inflammation that had previously sidelined him.
According to Mattingly, Hernandez had been running since rejoining the club on Tuesday. Garrett Cooper, who has been a vocal supporter of the universal designated hitter, reiterated that stance on Thursday, noting it would not only help hitters but also protect pitchers.
“That is a horrible, horrible way to lose one of your starters, running bases,” said Cooper, who missed substantial time with injuries over the past few seasons. “It's tough to digest right now, and I'm sure it's tough for him to digest right now. But that's what happened this year. Pitchers have been hitting, and they're back to doing so after a couple years off from running bases and hitting. To see that, that's more frustrating.
“Elieser, I'm sure, is not too happy, but it's tough for him to see. First game back after pitching his butt off all game, one of his better starts I've seen behind him, so it's just frustrating.”
With Hernandez placed on the 10-day IL on Friday, 40-man roster options to replace him include left-handers Daniel Castano (5.19 ERA in four starts) and Braxton Garrett (9.00 ERA in one relief appearance). Right-handed prospects Nick Neidert and Jordan Holloway are rehabbing injuries of their own.
The Marlins don’t have an off-day until June 17, after last Sunday’s rainout in Boston will be made up this Monday.
“I'm sure [the front office will] talk together about who the next guy will be, where that slots in, who's throwing the ball the best,” Mattingly said. “I know Holloway is getting ready to go out on rehab and start again, so he's doing well. We just listen to our people, and put the guy we think is best in that spot.”