Marlins bullpen finds redemption vs. Giants

April 10th, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO -- "Take a breath."

Those were the words catcher Jacob Stallings and shortstop Miguel Rojas told reliever  during the ninth inning of Saturday afternoon's 2-1 Marlins victory over the Giants at Oracle Park.

Following a leadoff hit, Bender missed poorly on two pitches to Brandon Crawford. So Stallings and Rojas wasted no time walking to the mound, putting reassuring arms on their pitcher's shoulders and providing encouragement.

"I was getting a little ahead of myself," Bender said. "'Take a breath, find the strike zone and just let my pitches work.' I have good stuff, and I just needed to go out there and fill up the zone. I was able to do that after I was able to take a breath, like they said, and went from there."

His next pitch went for a ball, but the at-bat culminated on a 3-6-3 double play thanks to a split at first base from Jesús Aguilar. With the bases clear, Bender clinched Miami's first win of the young season on a Wilmer Flores groundout to short.

Without a proven ninth-inning man, the Marlins are using a closer-by-committee approach. Dylan Floro led the club with 15 saves in 2021, but he is rehabbing right rotator cuff tendinitis. Bender, who recorded three saves and 12 holds during his rookie season, has gotten the first two opportunities. He certainly has the stuff to succeed in the role, with a nasty sinker/slider combination.

But one mistake pitch on Opening Day -- a slider that Thairo Estrada sent deep to left for a game-tying homer in the ninth -- resulted in a blown save. The beauty of baseball is there's almost always a game the next day. Such was the case on Saturday for Bender and the Marlins.

As he warmed up on Saturday, Bender could hear family and friends cheering him on.

Bender, who is from nearby Petaluma, grew up a Giants fan. He attended games as a kid, including one during the 2012 World Series run.

"It's definitely really cool," Bender said. "I've had a lot of support from the hometown, and everyone comes out to the game and shows their support. It definitely adds to it a little bit, and it stung a little bit more yesterday. So it's just the highs and lows. Everyone always says just try and stay as level as possible, and that's what I'm trying to do right now."

The redemption arc wasn't reserved solely for Bender. During the eighth inning on Opening Day, southpaw served up a solo homer to the left-handed-hitting Brandon Belt. It came on a 2-0 pitch -- his third straight sinker -- that was on the inside corner.

In Saturday's rematch, Bleier changed strategies, staying away with a sinker and two sliders. By inning’s end, Bleier had struck out the side and kept it a one-run advantage.

“It's very important,” Bleier said of forgetting a poor appearance. “There's a fine line, because you have to learn from your mistakes. I didn't just go out there and throw all sinkers to a guy who hit my sinker out the day before. But you’ve definitely got to go out and pitch with confidence, and you can't let bad outings determine your next game and let it snowball on you.”

Overall, Miami's bullpen worked four scoreless innings to complement Pablo López's solid 2022 debut. Lefty Steven Okert returned to San Francisco, where he played from '16-18, and fanned all four batters he faced. Newcomer Cole Sulser tossed another shutout frame.

The Marlins have been in position to win the first two games of a weekend series with the reigning National League West champions. The club’s formula for success is being laid out early on.

"I think we walk into the year knowing we've got good starting pitching," manager Don Mattingly said. "We've changed some things offensively that we feel like we're going to score runs. Our guys haven't really gotten going yet, but it's early. Over the course of the year, our guys are going to get going, and we think we're going to be able to mix and match out of the bullpen, so we've got a good club. There's a lot of clubs in the division that are good, but I don't think we walk into any series and say we can't play with these guys."