PHILADELPHIA -- A recurring issue that has plagued Caleb Smith all season hurt the left-hander once again on Saturday night. The reminder was sent by the first batter he faced.
Smith surrendered a leadoff homer to César Hernández, and Maikel Franco crushed a two-run shot in the second inning in the Marlins’ 9-3 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
The two blasts raised Smith’s season total of home runs allowed to 33, with 23 coming on the road.
“It's showing him how specific he needs to be,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “A lot of his home runs were mistakes that he leaves out over the middle of the plate, when he doesn't get where he wants to.”
This has been the season of the home run throughout baseball, and Smith believed the first shot on Saturday was an example of how the balls are flying out of parks. His 91.8 mph four-seam fastball was up and on the inner half of the plate, but Hernandez turned and drove it out. Per Statcast, the exit speed was 94.8 mph, and the projected distance was 373 feet.
Franco’s homer came on a slider.
“I felt the first homer today, the pitch was in a good spot,” Smith said. “That was, what, 94 [mph] off the bat? That typically doesn't go out. It did tonight. The other one, he went out and got it. It was a slider, but for the most part, people got me. Homers happen. The balls have just been flying.”
The Phillies, winners of the first two games in the final series of the season, added a three-run homer by Bryce Harper off Wei-Yin Chen, with all three runs being unearned. Neil Walker belted a two-out, two-run homer for the Marlins in the eighth inning -- his eighth of the season -- to chase Phillies starter Zach Eflin. At 56-105, the Marlins locked up the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft.
Smith (10-11, 4.52 ERA) finished up what was a solid year overall with a disheartening three innings, giving up six runs (five earned). He struck out a season-low-tying one batter and walked four before being replaced after 71 pitches.
After posting a 3.50 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 13 first-half starts, Smith recorded a 5.42 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 15 starts following the All-Star break.
“Things didn't go my way,” Smith said of his second-half struggles. “I didn't throw the ball the way I needed to the second half, and today was the exact same. The first half, I did good. I think the stuff is still there. I think it's just command or not executing pitches.”
Smith has a three-pitch mix, with his four-seam fastball, slider and changeup. Although he gave up 20 homers on four-seamers, hitters entered the night batting just .209 off the pitch.
“I think, overall, nobody wants to end the year like that,” Mattingly said. “But for the most part, he's getting through a full season, and it's going to be good for him. It didn't seem like it was real sharp tonight.”
Over 153 1/3 innings, Smith finished with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, but a 1.94 HR/9 rate.
Struggling in his final start, however, doesn’t diminish the caliber of season Smith had. A year ago, he missed the final three months with a left lat tear. Left hip inflammation sidelined Smith a month this summer.
“Today was the best I've felt for the second half, but it just didn't go well,” Smith said. “I'm just going to go into the offseason and work hard, and get ready for the long season, because it is a long season. You've just got to be ready for them.”
Smith opened 2019 as the Marlins’ No. 5 starter as he built back up from surgery, and he projects to be in the top of the rotation entering Spring Training.
“I think the winter is going to be good for him, from the standpoint of just getting back, getting his body in shape, getting to 100 percent, and going from there,” Mattingly said.