López scuffles, Marlins drop fourth straight

May 12th, 2021

What happens when a pitcher’s best pitch isn't there in a start? Marlins right-hander found out during a five-run fifth inning as the Marlins dropped their fourth in a row in an 11-3 loss to the D-backs at Chase Field. In a rematch of last Thursday’s matchup, Madison Bumgarner held Miami scoreless through seven frames.

López surrendered a season-high-tying six runs in 4 1/3 frames, snapping a stretch of four consecutive starts without allowing more than one earned run. Tuesday’s outing continued a season-long trend of López turning to his best pitch, the changeup, more often. D-backs shortstop Nick Ahmed turned around one of them that leaked sideways -- rather than down -- for a second-inning home run that more or less set the tone for the evening.

A breakdown of the changeup on Tuesday:

Max velocity: 90.5 mph
Avg. exit velocity: 99.2 mph
Hits: Three -- two singles, one homer
Balls in play: Eight
Strikeouts: One

"I just pretty much fell behind and gave them the pitch they wanted to hit where they wanted to hit, and it's tough when you're always in the defensive mode, when you're always trying to make a pitch to get back in the count instead of making the pitch you want to get out of the at-bat," said López, whose ERA ballooned from 2.04 to 3.07. "It was just me falling behind not executing. You saw pitches being flat, having run rather than sink, and it's just a matter of not giving myself the options that we needed to try to execute good pitches."

López, who uses his changeup to get back into counts or finish off at-bats, wasn't landing it where he wanted to during the fifth. As he put it: Hitters respect the pitch when it's thrown for a strike, and they then expand the zone. As a result, batters weren’t off his four-seam fastball.

In that fifth inning:

• Ahmed saw three changeups in a six-pitch walk.

• Josh Rojas singled off a sinker after seeing two changeups in a five-pitch at-bat.

• Bumgarner saw five changeups in a row and wound up with a sacrifice fly.

• Pavin Smith’s RBI single came on a changeup -- the first of the at-bat.

• Carson Kelly walked after seeing just one changeup in a seven-pitch plate appearance.

• Asdrúbal Cabrera chased López with a single off the first changeup of the at-bat.

"That's his best pitch, when he's able to throw that pitch for a strike and expand the zone, bounce it with two strikes," catcher Sandy León said. "He did really well the first four innings, and then after I think they were taking it, there weren't many swings in that inning. Even the sinkers inside they weren't swinging at either."

Entering Tuesday, López ranked second among qualified Major League starting pitchers with a 37 percent changeup usage, behind only Cincinnati's Luis Castillo (37.9%). Batters posted a .217 average and .290 slugging percentage against it. This time around, he threw it at a career-high 45 percent clip.

López's six starts with the highest changeup usage in his career have all come this season:

May 11, 2021: 45%

April 30, 2021: 44.3%

April 18, 2021: 42.6%

April 24, 2021: 41.2%

April 13, 2021: 37.3%

May 6, 2021: 37.2% (last Thursday vs. the D-backs: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R)

"He did seem to use it a lot tonight," manager Don Mattingly said. "I know part of his game is up and down, and maybe got away from his fastball a little bit. Something I know [pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.] as they go through the game again tomorrow there will be questions of, why here? Why there? I know Mel was questioning during the game. It seemed like he threw a lot of changeups and got away from his fastball, so it's something I know he'll look at overnight."