In loss, Fish see foundation for success

Defending AL champion Rays are model for what Marlins hope to accomplish

April 2nd, 2021

MIAMI -- The Marlins, fresh off their first playoff appearance in 17 years, began their 2021 season on Thursday with a nice litmus test by hosting the reigning American League champion Rays. Miami is building an organization behind strong pitching, something that can be said of established Tampa Bay.

Both clubs lived up the billing on Opening Day, as both and Tyler Glasnow went six scoreless innings in a pitchers' duel. But surrendered a two-out solo homer in the eighth as the Marlins lost to the Rays, 1-0, at loanDepot park. The adjusted-capacity attendance was 7,062 for the first home game with fans since Sept. 22, 2019.

"Honestly, this is one of those games you feel like we're going to play a lot of, and we're going to have to figure out our ways to score and to win games, and I think we will," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said during a Zoom call.

Alcantara struck out seven batters in his outing, scattering two hits, walking two batters and hitting another. In doing so, he became the third Marlins Opening Day pitcher to go at least six innings and not allow a run, joining Kevin Brown (1997) and Josh Beckett (2005). The leader of Miami's young staff continues to develop his arsenal, relying on his emerging slider and changeup.

The 25-year-old right-hander's changeup, which he called his best pitch during Spring Training, reached 92.8 mph on Thursday. He recorded six whiffs on it -- the most among his five offerings -- and added another five swings and misses on the slider. That pitch maxed out at 91.3 mph.

After recording the first two outs of the game on six pitches, Alcantara got himself into trouble and loaded the bases. To escape the jam, he threw two consecutive changeups to Kevin Kiermaier for the strikeout. Over the next five frames, only two batters reached.

"It means a lot to have two really good pitches to use," Alcantara said during a Zoom call. "I feel pretty happy throwing in the zone. I feel really good throwing my changeup for strikes and getting strikeouts, too."

Glasnow matched Alcantara with six scoreless frames, permitting just an infield hit to Jesús Aguilar, who singled twice in the opener. Glasnow fanned six and didn’t walk a batter. Three relievers followed, limiting the Marlins to two hits and one walk over the final three frames.

Miami's revamped bullpen looked good for the most part. Newcomers Dylan Floro, Adam Cimber and Ross Detwiler combined for shutout innings in the seventh and ninth, respectively. Returning setup man GarcĂ­a recorded deep flyouts to consecutive batters in the eighth, but Austin Meadows sent a 2-0 four-seam fastball over the right-center-field wall for the decisive run. In the bottom of the frame, the Marlins stranded a pair of runners against Pete Fairbanks when Corey Dickerson flied out to center. Another scoring chance was for naught when Aguilar sent a drive to the warning track for the second out in the ninth.

"It seems like every time we play in this ballpark, we have just a lot of tight ballgames for whatever reason," Rays manager Kevin Cash said during a Zoom call.

Since 2019, the Citrus Series has been a lopsided affair, with the Rays winning 10 of 11 contests. Six of those Marlins losses, however, have been by two runs or fewer. Tampa Bay does the little things to win tight games late, going 14-5 in 2020. Miami wasn't too far off with an 11-8 record. Besides the solid pitching, both clubs tend to do just enough on offense.

Mattingly agreed when asked whether Tampa Bay could serve as a blueprint for Miami; it's hard not to look at the Rays, a ballclub that isn't going to sign a $300 million player, and not see a proven formula. The Rays boast MLB Pipeline’s top farm system and are "a few more years into what they do, and they're really good at what they do," per Miami’s skipper. The Marlins, whose prospects ranked fourth, are still in the beginning stages.

This season marks Year 4 under the ownership group led by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. The playoff berth in 2020's short season showed progress, but the build continues. Finding ways to win these close games against perennial contenders is the next step.

"We understand the game," Aguilar said during a Zoom call. "We know we're facing a really good team. We're just going to go out there and play the game the right way. What we did today was what we're supposed to do the whole season. I know it's going to be a long season, but if we play that way, it's going to be a fun season for us, because I think we've got the right pieces to compete."