MIAMI -- When Marlins manager Don Mattingly handed the ball to southpaw Richard Bleier with the game tied and the bases loaded with no outs in the eighth inning, he hoped his reliever would limit the damage. Instead, Bleier did something for just the second time in 198 big league outings: he struck out the side.
Following Bleier’s escape act, the Marlins scored six runs in the bottom half of the frame in a 9-3 win over the D-backs on Tuesday night at loanDepot park. Miami, which lost seven of 10 on its road trip, opened a six-game homestand with a much-needed victory.
"It's almost like there's no pressure because it's such a tough situation to pitch out of that; there's probably not too many expectations," Bleier said. "I'm glad it worked out, and it seemed like the team carried that momentum and immediately jumped on that guy and put up a really big crooked number there."
Below is the breakdown of Bleier’s 13-pitch, nine-strike appearance:
LHH Josh Rojas
Strikeout pitch: 89 mph sinker
2021 stats entering Tuesday: Batters were 7-for-26 with a .423 slugging percentage and two strikeouts on Bleier's sinker
RHH Wyatt Mathisen
Strikeout pitch: 86.5 mph cutter
2021 stats entering Tuesday: Batters were 3-for-9 with a 1.333 slugging percentage (three homers) and four strikeouts on Bleier's cutter
LHH Pavin Smith
Strikeout pitch: 89.4 mph sinker
Bleier was happy to pick up setup man Anthony Bass, who had walked David Peralta on four pitches and allowed back-to-back singles. When catcher Sandy León couldn’t field a sac bunt that loaded the bases, Mattingly turned to Bleier.
Bass, who opened the season as the closer before being taken out of the role following two straight blown saves, hadn’t allowed a run in eight consecutive outings. His removal from the closer role dated back to the controversial walk-off hit-by-pitch on April 8 against the Mets.
D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said the decision to go with Bleier caught them off guard. This season, the lefty has primarily worked in the sixth or seventh innings. The six-year veteran had only pitched in the American League until the Orioles dealt him to the Marlins last August.
"It was a great move by their manager, kind of switched the deck up a little bit," Lovullo said. "And their pitcher who we didn’t have much familiarity with, nor did we ever anticipate he’d be in a game like that. We knew who their high-leverage-inning guys were. That wasn’t one of them. It might have caught us by surprise. But after the first couple of warmup pitches, I think we can lock in on it. It’s not an excuse."
Entering the outing, Bleier had fanned just eight of 43 batters in 2021. He had also encountered mixed results, giving up six runs (four homers) in 11 innings. His ground-ball rate had dropped to 51.4 percent -- the lowest in his career.
“What I said was, ‘Let's throw the ball on the ground, give us a chance,’” Mattingly said. “Told him what depth we were going to be playing in the infield. 'If the ball's back to him, we're going home. All right, so let's keep it simple.’”
The Marlins rode that momentum, quickly taking back the lead on three consecutive hits to open the bottom of the frame. Miguel Rojas doubled and Jesús Aguilar drove him home with a single.
Aguilar then scored on an infield single by Corey Dickerson thanks to some sloppy defense from the D-backs. Miami then added another four runs with two outs, including three on Lewis Brinson’s first homer of the season.
"One hundred percent. That [top of the eighth] was a big momentum swing," said third baseman Brian Anderson, who went deep in his first at-bat off the injured list earlier in the game. "They kind of got it going a little bit against us. Got some guys on base, put some pressure on us. We bring in Richie who's not normally that high of a strikeout guy, and he goes in there and punches three tickets. It seems like the momentum is right back on our side, and then after that, it's ‘Miggy's on, Agui's on,’ and then [it] kind of just breaks loose from there."