Despite a dominant seven-inning performance from Pablo López, the Marlins were unable to bring home the win against the Nationals in a 2-1 loss in 10 innings on Friday night at Nationals Park.
López tied his career high in innings, lowered his season ERA to 2.34 and allowed just six hits and two walks. After yielding singles in the first inning to Josh Harrison and Yadiel Hernandez, López regrouped and faced the minimum over the next four innings.
“I think what worked really well was being able to give ourselves options by working ahead in the count. When you work 0-1, 1-2, 0-2, you give yourself more options and more opportunities with your plan,” López said. “When you are hitting the count, you are able to throw those pitches with more conviction.”
The game was scoreless into the 10th inning, when Garrett Cooper’s blooper into left field brought in José Devers -- a pinch-runner serving as the automatic runner at second base to open the frame -- to give the Marlins the first run of the game. But Miami’s momentum was short-lived, as Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run bomb off Yimi García in the bottom of the inning to give the Nationals a walk-off victory.
Although Cooper’s late-game heroics were overshadowed by Schwarber’s clutch hit, Cooper and the Marlins are still confident in what the team can accomplish this season, especially as it continues to play more consistently and adds injured starters back to the lineup.
“Any baseball player will tell you, just to play every day, to get those at-bats, just to feel comfortable again. I think earlier in the year it was tough for me to be comfortable all the time, not playing every day,” Cooper said. “It's a daily grind. It's not the 60-game  season anymore where you feel like every at-bat is crucial. Just to play every day is huge, and I’m feeling comfortable again.”
While it was a heartbreaking loss for Miami, López was a silver lining. He displayed his entire five-pitch arsenal and made good use of his changeup. This year, López has made his changeup his primary pitch, and it has served him well over the past two games, with a usage rate of 40.9 percent, up from his season average of 35.2 percent. Last year, he threw the offering 29.9 percent of the time.
“It's grown a lot for me. It's a pitch that looks like a fastball, but it's 5 [mph] slower,” López said. “If you get ahead in the count and you throw that changeup that looks like a fastball until the very last second and it drops and does what it’s supposed to, it gives the hitters something to think about. It's been a great weapon. I'm still working on how to command it, and [I] keep developing it and just working on it.”
López, who has held opponents to two or fewer runs in 12 of his past 17 regular-season starts, was aided by his stellar infield defense. The Marlins, who went in with a National League-high 23 double plays turned this season, continued that trend with four impressive DPs that saved López and Miami from some tough situations.
“It gives you a lot of confidence knowing that you are a pitch away. I know if I make a good quality pitch, the defense behind me will turn that double play for me,” López said. “That just gives me confidence to just go out there and try to execute. The defense behind me did it all for me.”
It felt as if López might go the distance after he threw only 79 pitches through seven innings. He was able to keep his pitch count down through the Marlins’ ability to turn double plays and strand runners in scoring position. However, manager Don Mattingly said it was an easy decision to end López’s night and look to his bullpen to bring home the win.
“Not that hard,” Mattingly said about pulling López. “It's part of the whole process of the number of innings you're wanting to let guys go. You have to be disciplined throughout the year. Pablo’s pitch count was good, we felt good with where our 'pen was and we were in good shape.”
Relievers Anthony Bass, Dylan Floro and García held the Nationals to three hits and struck out two in two-plus innings. As the Fish continue to get healthy and regain some familiar faces, their offense will need to come alive.