MIAMI -- On Sept. 5, the Marlins began a grueling stretch of 16 straight games without an off-day that could make or break their postseason chances.
During that span, Luis Arraez (left ankle sprain) and Jake Burger (right quad tightness) sustained injuries. Ace Sandy Alcantara didn’t take the mound because of a UCL sprain. Miami went with a six-man rotation including two openers to ease the burden on its young arms.
Though the Marlins went 9-7 and sit a half-game back of the Cubs for the third and final National League Wild Card spot, Thursday’s off-day couldn’t come at a better time following Wednesday night’s 8-3 loss to the Mets at loanDepot park.
“We didn't play really well this series, just bottom line,” said manager Skip Schumaker, whose club dropped two of three. “Bad timing for this series, and it wasn't [a] lack of effort. They played hard, maybe too hard at times, and tried to force some plays. Just another tough game.”
- Games remaining: vs. MIL (3), at NYM (3), at PIT (3)
- Standings update: The Marlins (79-74) remained a half-game back of the Cubs (79-73) for the third National League Wild Card. They remain a half-game ahead of the Reds (79-75). Miami holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Chicago, having taken four of six in the season series. Miami tied the season series (3-3) with Cincinnati, but the Marlins (25-24 against the NL East) hold the second tiebreaker -- intradivisional record -- over the Reds (19-27 against the NL Central).
In a duel between top rookie pitchers, Kodai Senga bested Eury Pérez, who went just three innings and gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits and three walks. New York made Pérez work, fouling off 18 pitches, striking out just twice and swinging and missing seven times.
“I was just trying to do more than I could, trying too hard,” Pérez said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “I felt a little uncomfortable, to be honest, on the mound, a little bit in some situations, and just kept pushing there. And that's what happened today.”
Miami temporarily shut down the 20-year-old Pérez before the All-Star break in order to monitor his workload. Between his time at Double-A and the Majors, Pérez has thrown 128 innings -- 45 more than he did in 2022. Perhaps it’s catching up to him. Since being recalled on Aug. 7, Pérez has just two quality starts in eight opportunities. He has walked three batters in three of his four starts this month.
In Wednesday’s finale, Pérez leaned heavily on his four-seam fastball (61%) because he had a better grip and command of that pitch than his secondary offerings.
“I feel great, but we have to realize also it's the end of the season, the amount of innings is the most that’s happened in my career in a season,” Pérez said. “You can start to feel a little bit of that, because of the depth of the season.”
Of Pérez’s 69 pitches, 31 came in the third, when he opened the frame with six straight balls before rookie Ronny Mauricio singled to right. Jesús Sánchez fielded the ball and fired to third, but it got away from Burger, who was injured lunging on the play. Brandon Nimmo scored and Mauricio advanced to third. Pete Alonso followed with a sacrifice fly.
“I don't think he was tired,” Schumaker said. “I thought the velocity was there. Slider, the characteristics were there. I just felt like [he] just couldn't put anybody away like he's used to.”
Following that frame, Schumaker wasn’t going to push Pérez, with a fairly fresh bullpen and Thursday’s off-day. Surprising was Schumaker calling on veteran righty Johnny Cueto for the final two innings after the Mets extended their lead. The Marlins are scheduled to use an opener on Friday, when Cueto would have been in line to start. According to Schumaker, Cueto will pitch out of the bullpen for the next few games before “seeing where he’s at.”
It certainly won’t get any easier for the Marlins, as the NL Central-leading Brewers will send out starters Corbin Burnes (3.56 ERA), Brandon Woodruff (1.89 ERA) and Freddy Peralta (3.71 ERA) over the weekend.
Miami hopes Arraez and Burger heal enough over the next 48 hours to return to the lineup. Much is at stake with just nine games left and a chance at reaching the postseason for the first time in a full season since 2003.
“I told Skip that I want to be in there on Friday, so that's where I'll leave that,” Burger said of his level of concern.