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Caleb exits early with high pitch count

Rays foul off 35 pitches, force Marlins ace out after 5 1/3 solid innings
@JoeFrisaro
May 14, 2019

MIAMI -- Word is out that Caleb Smith is tough to hit. The 27-year-old has a 34.8 percent strikeout rate, and on Tuesday night he racked up eight more strikeouts, reaffirming his status as one of the top starters in the National League. So rather than rough up the Marlins’

MIAMI -- Word is out that Caleb Smith is tough to hit. The 27-year-old has a 34.8 percent strikeout rate, and on Tuesday night he racked up eight more strikeouts, reaffirming his status as one of the top starters in the National League.

So rather than rough up the Marlins’ ace, the Rays methodically chipped away at the left-hander, repeatedly fouling off pitch after pitch. By the time Smith was lifted after 5 1/3 innings and 106 pitches, Tampa Bay had amassed 35 foul balls, the most surrendered by any pitcher in the Majors this season.

In doing so, the Rays made Avisail Garcia’s monstrous second-inning home run and two RBI singles stand in a 4-0 victory over the Marlins in the Citrus Series opener at Marlins Park.

“They had good at-bats,” Smith said. “Fouled pitches off and did their job. Got me out of the game kind of early.”

Box score

Miami has now lost a season-high six straight games -- falling to 10-30 overall -- and wasted another gem by Smith, who allowed two runs on four hits.

Charlie Morton threw six shutout innings, and the Marlins were blanked for the eighth time this year. Neil Walker went 2-for-4, extending his hitting streak to eight games.

“Neil, he's getting his hits,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He's kind of the guy we've talked about. He knows what he's doing. He's been as advertised, to be honest with you. He's been good with our guys. A guy who is going to keep working. He's got a good routine. He's a good example for our guys to follow.”

Smith (3-1) dropped his first decision of the season but again was on point. He struck out Yandy Diaz to open the game and had at least two strikeouts in each of the first three innings. It also was his sixth start with at least eight strikeouts.

“I thought he was pretty good,” Mattingly said. “Avisail gets him early. He was trying to go up with a fastball, fouled it back. Tried it again, just probably not quite high enough. But I thought he was pretty good. It seemed he kind of ran out of steam at the end.”

As Smith was compiling strikeouts, the Rays were inflicting paper cuts by fouling off so many pitches. The 35 foul balls topped the 33 the White Sox hit off Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello on May 5.

“We were happy to see him come out of the game because we didn’t do much at all,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s got some extra zip to the fastball, hides the ball really well; has a little twist to his delivery that really throws some guys off. But there’s a reason he’s had such a good season to this point, and it was no different tonight. He was very challenging.”

Daniel Robertson proved to be the most pesky of the Rays’ hitters, fouling off 14 of the 26 pitches he saw off Smith in four plate appearances.

“I don't know how many pitches he fouled off,” Smith said of Robertson. “It seemed like a lot. Maybe an inning's worth total. He did a good job at the plate.”

In the fourth inning, Robertson and Smith had a 13-pitch showdown. Smith won that battle with a strikeout, which turned into a double play when catcher Jorge Alfaro threw out Tommy Pham trying to steal second.

“We get the out, two outs, but on their side, they're saying, 'Great at-bat,’" Mattingly said. “Where it costs a guy a lot of pitches, and may keep him from an extra inning. But Caleb still gets us into the sixth.”

The big blast Smith allowed came in the second inning, when Garcia crushed a home run to center field that sailed over the batter’s eye and onto the concourse. It was tracked by Statcast at a projected 471 feet, making it the fifth longest homer at Marlins Park since Statcast launched in 2015. The top four spots are held by former Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who set the stadium standard of 479 feet on June 23, 2015, against the Cardinals.

“It was a fastball,” Smith said. “I tried to get it up. I didn't get it up high enough.”

On April 25 at the Phillies, Smith had a 16-pitch staredown with J.T. Realmuto that included 11 foul balls before the at-bat ended in a strikeout. Smith had 30 pitches fouled off that game.

“He had the one with J.T. in Philly, which was longer than that, and won that one, too,” Mattingly said. “Obviously, it's a lot of pitches."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.