Ureña shakes off early rust in solid '20 debut

September 7th, 2020

's return to the rotation Monday came with a bit of drama and plenty of reasons for optimism for the Marlins.

The most experienced starter on a youthful staff, Ureña shook off some predictable rust in the first inning against the Braves. He brushed off an umpire warning after a sinker ran up and in and hit Ronald Acuña Jr. in the fourth inning, and he helped keep Miami in a position to take the series opener at Truist Park.

The Marlins ended up cashing in when Miguel Rojas’ 10th-inning RBI double -- his fourth hit of the day -- lifted them to a 5-4 victory over the Braves.

Miami (18-18 and tied for seventh in the National League in the expanded 16-team postseason) rebounded in extra innings after letting a one-run lead slip away in the ninth. Rojas sparked the offense with two doubles and two RBIs as part of a 4-for-5 day at the plate.

“Another big win today,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We get back to .500 and have a chance to win a series tomorrow. These guys keep playing. We're kind of seeing what they're made of.”

The Marlins are 3 1/2 games behind the Braves and 1 1/2 back of the second-place Phillies in the NL East.

For Miami to stay in the thick of the race, it will need to rely on its rotation. Ureña stepped up in his first outing, filling the spot vacated when Elieser Hernandez (left lat strain) was placed on the injured list.

“I think you kind of expect some rust,” Mattingly said of Ureña. “It looked like he had trouble with his command early. He did make pitches when he had to, and he ended up going five for us, which was big.”

Ureña departed in line for the win, but Adam Duvall hit a game-tying homer to lead off the bottom of the ninth against Brandon Kintzler, who blew a save chance in his second straight appearance.

The Marlins on Monday reinstated Ureña from the injured list after he was one of 18 Miami players to test positive for COVID-19 earlier this season.

Rojas pointed out that Ureña had only thrown simulated scrimmages at the club’s alternate training site in Jupiter, Fla., before taking the mound at Atlanta.

“José fought,” Rojas said. “Remember, he hadn't pitched in a Minor League game this year. For his first start, I think he did really well."

In all, Ureña threw 83 pitches, including 46 strikes. Yet perhaps the most critical throw of the game by the right-hander wasn’t to home plate.

Instead, it was to second baseman Jazz Chisholm. After Acuña was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning, the Braves’ All-Star stole second base. But with two outs, Ureña turned and threw a strike to Chisholm, who applied the tag to complete the pick-off play.

“We have a pick-off play, and we made the play,” Ureña said. “We're happy we made the out. He was sleeping a little bit out there.”

Ureña and Acuña, of course, have had history dating back to Aug. 15, 2018. That day, the right-hander hit Acuña with the first pitch of the game, and he was promptly ejected as the benches cleared. They added more history on Monday.

Mattingly noted that the Braves and their manager, Brian Snitker, probably knew there was no intent to hit Acuña.

“I guess they have to do it because of our history a little bit from a couple of years ago,” Mattingly said. “I didn't really think much about it. We're trying to get him out. There's two outs. He's hitting. We're not trying to get him on base so he can steal a bag and they can get a run. Honestly, we're playing. The ball gets away. That's all there is to it."

Acuña was clearly upset to get hit in the left arm on Monday, and he exchanged a few words with Ureña, who has long had a history of hitting batters. The Miami veteran led the league in hit batters in 2017 (14) and '18 (12).

Ureña has a power sinker, which tends to run in on right-handed hitters. He noted that he is trying to work the inside part of the plate, which is one of the few areas that Acuña struggles with.

“If I miss that spot, he's got a lot of power,” Ureña said. “Any little space, besides that half of the plate. I can't give him the inside [part of the] plate. I have to challenge him. That is my strong part.”