Muñoz struggles to capitalize in Major League return

June 9th, 2024

MIAMI -- The opportunity is there for the taking, it’s just a matter of whether Marlins right-hander will grab it.

Hours after left-hander Ryan Weathers landed on the 15-day injured list with a left index finger sprain, Muñoz returned to the big league mound in place of righty Sixto Sánchez (right shoulder inflammation).

Muñoz allowed four runs in four innings of the Marlins’ 8-0 loss to the Guardians on Saturday night at loanDepot park. Miami turned to infielder Emmanuel Rivera to toss a scoreless ninth to save the bullpen from using another arm.

“Obviously, you don't want any of your teammates to get hurt or be unable to compete,” Muñoz said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “Seeing the situation, I'm out here just taking advantage of that. I want to continue competing and help the team any way I can so I can stay up here.”

The Marlins desperately need help for their injury-depleted rotation. Since June began, the starting staff has an MLB-high 9.95 ERA -- way ahead of second-worst Kansas City (7.58). It’s no coincidence the club is 1-5 this month.

With Weathers, the club’s most consistent starter, out for an unknown amount of time, the Marlins have yet another rotation spot to fill. The healthy 40-man options include No. 2 prospect Max Meyer and right-hander Shaun Anderson, who was acquired in a trade with the Rangers on May 30. Some non-roster options include righties Matt Andriese, Jeff Lindgren, Kyle Tyler and Yonny Chirinos and southpaws Devin Smeltzer and Kent Emanuel.

“Guys perform at this level, they get an opportunity, then you get another chance,” manager Skip Schumaker said. “That's anybody. I'm not going to tell him that he has one start and good luck. He knows that every time he pitches, there's an opportunity to showcase if he's a real starter at this level or not. And I think he is.

“I think he has enough stuff to beat Major League hitters. It shows when he's ahead of hitters that he has a real slider and a real changeup to make really good hitters look bad. A lot of soft contact at times, and he has strikeout stuff. But unfortunately, behind hitters, you get in trouble at this level.”

Muñoz often put himself in a bind against a Cleveland offense with the seventh-most runs scored in the Majors. He threw first-pitch strikes just 58 percent of the time and accumulated eight three-ball counts. Muñoz issued four walks.

The Guardians loaded their lineup with seven lefty bats, including switch-hitter José Ramírez, who turned on Muñoz’s 96.7 mph four-seamer over the plate for a solo homer to right field in the first.

Muñoz worked around a pair of two-out walks in the second, then saw a leadoff walk to Steven Kwan come home to score on former Marlins prospect Josh Naylor’s first of two RBI knocks on pitches outside of the zone.

Things began to unravel in a six-run fifth when Muñoz once again walked the leadoff batter -- this time Daniel Schneemann -- and Kwan deposited a two-run homer over the right-field wall to chase him. The swing came on a 95.8 mph four-seamer on the inside corner. According to Muñoz, his sinker and four-seamer weren’t cutting enough inside.

“He's fighting to get back into counts against a good lineup and had to come in the zone against some good hitters, and they kind of made him pay,” Schumaker said. “He has real stuff. If he learns how to throw it over the plate more consistently, he's going to be really good up here. He's just got to trust his stuff over the plate.”

The game snowballed when right-hander Declan Cronin took over for Muñoz on the mound. The four runs (three earned) charged to Cronin snapped Miami’s 17 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings from the bullpen.

After posting a 2.45 ERA through his first two starts across 11 frames, Muñoz has a 10.38 ERA in his next two over 8 2/3. On Saturday, his four-seamer averaged 96 mph and maxed out at 97.5 mph. But that doesn’t matter when walking four batters in each of the past two starts after just three combined in the previous two.

“It's not that I couldn't manage all my pitches, but there's some days that you don't have all your stuff in every single pitch,” Muñoz said. “But most important was just to stay up there and compete and find that repetition, which I was trying to do, and compete, and get those results that I want.”