Amidst injuries, loss tests Marlins' depth

April 21st, 2021

MIAMI -- Playing with a short bench became exacerbated when a Marlins starting position player exited with an injury for the second straight game. This time, it was catcher , who experienced left hamstring soreness after running out a grounder in the fourth inning of Tuesday night's 7-5 loss to the Orioles at loanDepot park.

Alfaro, who missed four games with left hamstring tightness from April 7-12, had started five of Miami's seven games since his return. He reached base when second baseman Rio Ruiz bobbled the ball for a fielding error, recording a sprint speed of 27.2 ft/sec on the play. When healthy, Alfaro's usually in the 28 ft/sec range. As Alfaro gingerly made his way back to first base, manager Don Mattingly and head athletic trainer Gene Basham visited him as he stood on the bag. The trio talked for a couple minutes, with Alfaro trying to loosen his left leg. In the end, he left the game, walking off on his own power.

"It's always a tough conversation when a guy wants to stay in a game,” Mattingly said. “[It] looked like he reaggravated that leg a little bit. Let's kind of see where we're at going forward, but I see him kind of buckling over there and looked like he shook it again in the first inning on a play after a swing. He thinks he'll be alright, but this thing doesn't seem to be getting where we want it to go.”

Chad Wallach, the only other backstop on the 40-man roster, replaced Alfaro. Miami can’t afford to take Alfaro’s status day by day. Following Wednesday’s homestand finale, the Marlins will embark on a three-city, 10-game trip through San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington. Should Alfaro need to go on the injured list, catchers at the alternate training site in Jacksonville, Fla., include Brian Navarreto, Sandy León and Santiago Chávez. Miami's 40-man roster has an open spot.

In Tuesday’s loss, the Marlins used their fourth and final reserve in the seventh inning when pinch-hitter Magneuris Sierra grounded out to second. A double switch after the third, when Miami trailed 5-1 and Nick Neidert reached 70 pitches, proved to be costly, as the Marlins found the pitcher’s spot due up third in the ninth inning. Pablo López, who entered the pinch-hit at-bat 1-for-6 on the season with a double, whiffed on three pitches for the final out.

“It's definitely different,” said López, who began prepping in the seventh inning for a potential at-bat. “In the back of my head I'm like, ‘Oh, I don't want to be the last out,’ so it's a thought. It’s a two-run ballgame. You're facing their top arm in the end of the bullpen -- you're facing the closer. He's going to go to his bread and butter, which right before I stepped on the on-deck circle, they told me he's got a good changeup and he goes to it a lot. And I was like, ‘OK, I'm sure I'm going to see a couple.’ But I saw three.”

The situation was set up by Jazz Chisholm Jr. recording the final out of the third. Mattingly made the move so long reliever Paul Campbell could pitch multiple innings and take care of the bullpen with a stretch of nine straight days with a game. So with the pitcher's spot due up third in the fourth, Jon Berti batted ninth and replaced Chisholm at second base.

“This is a situation that kind of comes back to haunt you a little bit,” Mattingly said. “But honestly, it's not that. ... Much more the injuries I think are beating us up now more than that -- losing guys. This is really the first game that we've gotten behind like this early, where we've had to do anything [with a short bench], so Paul did a nice job. He came in, kind of kept it there. We're able to creep back into the game and just didn't get over the hump.”

Miami has been playing with a four-man bench since its April 11 game in New York was suspended in the first inning because of rain; the club had added an extra arm to the pitching staff in case of inclement weather. Unfortunately, the roster move couldn’t be undone. 

And then center fielder Starling Marte went on the 10-day IL on Tuesday after sustaining a non-displaced fracture in his 12th rib (left side). He left during his ninth-inning at-bat on Sunday.

“This is gonna test us,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “Last year, we got tested in a different way, but this year with a couple of injuries early on, we're going to be testing our depth. The organization is going to be tested, and it's going to be about how the guys are going to embrace the opportunity.”