'We'll get rolling': Marlins have faith wins will come

March 31st, 2024

MIAMI -- Coming off the franchise’s first full-season postseason berth in two decades, the Marlins envisioned carrying over that momentum into 2024. Much of the roster returned, as did most of reigning National League Manager of the Year Skip Schumaker’s staff. It didn’t hurt that their opening series opponent was the Pirates, whose home turf was the location of Miami’s clincher last fall.

Four games into a new season, September seems like ages ago. After letting an early lead slip away in a 9-7, 10-inning loss on Sunday afternoon at loanDepot park, the Marlins are 0-4 to start a season for the first time since 2001 -- when the club finished with 86 losses.

Postgame, Schumaker was quick to point out that 2023 began in a similar fashion -- Miami dropped four of five -- and look how things turned out. Because starters don’t typically go deep into games this time of year, the bullpen is overtaxed. Miami relievers entered the finale having thrown the most innings in the Majors (outside of San Diego and Los Angeles, which have played more games). The same thing happened to the Marlins last season, yet the relief corps finished with the fourth-highest fWAR in MLB.

In 2023, it was left-hander Devin Smeltzer and others eating up innings early on. Right-handers Bryan Hoeing, Declan Cronin and Vladimir Gutierrez -- who surrendered the go-ahead three-run homer to Rowdy Tellez in the seventh -- are serving that role in ‘24. There has been significant turnover on the staff, with four starters on the injured list, and five relievers who saw significant action either not on the active roster, traded (or signed) elsewhere or in the rotation.

“It starts with the starting pitching, that's just the reality. It starts with them,” Schumaker said, “and we have good enough starters to win every game this series, and definitely tomorrow. If we get five strong innings out of Max [Meyer] tomorrow, I feel really good about winning. But it has to start with the starting pitching and our defense. If we pitch and play defense, we have enough offense to break through.”

Miami received an encouraging start from left-hander Trevor Rogers, who made his first big league appearance since April 19, 2023. Though he allowed four runs over five innings -- the second-deepest into a game for a Marlins starter since lefty Jesús Luzardo on Thursday -- he was the victim of weak contact during a three-run, 38-pitch second.

If Rogers, who was limited to just four starts in 2023 due to injuries, can return to his ‘21 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up form, the Marlins will be in good shape. They also will have tough decisions to make when left-hander Braxton Garrett and right-handers Edward Cabrera and Eury Pérez are healthy.

“We’ve been scoring runs but just really haven't closed the deal when we need to,” said Rogers, who struck out six and walked four. “I couldn't tell you what our record was through the first four games last year. I know every single one of the guys in there is not happy being 0-4 right now, but it's the beautiful thing about baseball: We've got 150-plus games to go, so we'll get it tightened up and we'll get rolling.”

Although the Marlins provided Rogers a five-run lead in the first, punctuated by Jazz Chisholm Jr.’s grand slam off Pittsburgh southpaw Bailey Falter, the only other offense was a solo shot in the fourth from Avisaíl García and a pinch-hit game-tying solo blast from Nick Gordon in the ninth. After going 54-8 when scoring five runs or more in 2023, the Marlins are 0-2. Batters have 20 or fewer plate appearances so far in a marathon season where they’ll see upwards of 600-plus chances at the dish.

Pittsburgh tallied two runs in the 10th on a run-scoring sac bunt and a bases-loaded walk against lefty Tanner Scott, who tied for the highest fWAR among MLB relievers in 2023. Despite two baserunners in the bottom half of the frame, Miami was unable to rally.

Last season, the club tallied the fifth-most runs in the NL in the eighth inning or later. In the first four games of this season, Miami was outscored, 5-2, in the same span.

The 13-year-veteran García, who silenced boo birds in the fourth inning with his first homer since April 26, 2023, offered a dose of perspective.

“We have another series. This is baseball. We're going to lose, we're going to win,” García said. “This is not going to last forever. So we've just got to keep working and believe in ourselves. I believe in this team. I believe in our guys, and we’ve just got to keep working and be positive.”