MILWAUKEE -- So much for struggling on the road. Caleb Smith erased any doubts that he could perform away from home, but the left-hander had little to show for it on Sunday in the Marlins' 4-2 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park.
Smith logged career highs with six innings and 10 strikeouts while allowing just two hits and no walks. But those hits came back to back in the fourth inning, with Christian Yelich's two-run home run to center spoiling an otherwise stellar outing.
After being tagged for five runs in 2 1/3 innings in his last start, a loss at Yankee Stadium on Monday, Smith put everything together in his efficient six innings. Of his 77 pitches, 55 were strikes.
"It feels really good," Smith said. "After my last outing, the days felt like they were going by so slowly. I was ready to get back out there and go again."
Justin Bour had two hits and two RBIs, but he also committed a two-out error in the seventh inning on Eric Thames' grounder to first that allowed Milwaukee's third run to score. Bour also made a baserunning blunder in the eighth inning, taking off from first base with one out on Brian Anderson's routine fly ball to center, and he was doubled up to end the inning.
"First off, I'm not getting that ground ball and getting out of the inning," Bour said. "That's pretty frustrating. On the popup, I saw the first baseman go behind, so I'm thinking right there two outs, that's why he's behind me, and just a mental lapse. I would much rather go 0-for-4 with four strikeouts than commit an error and do something stupid on the bases. That leaves a terrible feeling in your stomach, so it's just brutal."
The Marlins, who are now 1-5 on their current road trip, have been in need of a strong start, and Smith delivered. But with Miami down a run in the seventh inning, the southpaw was lifted for a pinch-hitter.
"I wanted him to be able to go back out, but we have to try to score in that inning," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
Until Sunday, Smith's season had been different as night and day based on where he's pitched. In two road starts, he had a 13.50 ERA with seven strikeouts and 11 walks over 5 1/3 innings. It was vastly different at Marlins Park, where he had a 3.48 ERA in 10 1/3 innings with 15 strikeouts and four walks.
"Everything was working," Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto said. "He was very effective in the strike zone. He got ahead of guys early, was really able to get through the lineup the first time through, primarily with his fastball, which was huge for him. The second time through, he was able to mix a little more, and he was able throw his slider quite a bit and throw it in the zone when he wanted to and throw it out of the zone when he wanted to."
Smith opened with three perfect innings, striking out six on 32 pitches, before running into trouble in the fourth. Lorenzo Cain led off with a single to right, and Yelich crushed his home run to center.
"It was supposed to be a two-seam [fastball] in, and it was just middle of the plate, down in the zone," Smith said. "He put a good swing on it. That's really the pitch that cost us the lead."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Missed opportunity: In the sixth inning, the Marlins put themselves in position to tie the game or take the lead, loading the bases with no outs against Brewers starter Junior Guerra. Realmuto and Starlin Castro each singled and Bour drew a walk, prompting a pitching change with the Brewers clinging to a 2-1 lead. Jeremy Jeffress entered with no outs, and he needed 12 pitches to get three outs while not allowing a run. Anderson struck out on a splitter, and J.B. Shuck popped out foul to third, while Lewis Brinson went down on strikes, swinging through a 2-2 offspeed pitch to end the inning.
"That's the inning, definitely, that you look back and you have an opportunity right there to get on the board and get at least get one," Mattingly said. "It is an inning that hurt us, for sure where you look back and say that was a missed opportunity."
At 5-16, the Marlins are tied for their worst start ever through 21 games. They started with the same record in 1995 and 2013.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Realmuto impacts the game in many ways, behind the plate and with his bat. In the first inning, Realmuto used his legs on the bases. He scored from first base on Bour's double, touching home with a hand swipe just ahead of Brewers catcher Jacob Nottingham's tag. According to Statcast™, Realmuto made it from first to home in 10.58 seconds, and his sprint speed was 28.1 feet per second. Realmuto needed to be on the go, because Bour's double had an exit speed of 113.6 mph.
"Actually, it was probably closer than it should have been, because I rounded third a little wider than I wanted to," Realmuto said. "[Anderson] was behind the plate telling me, 'Slide outside, slide outside.' He did a good job of letting me know, so I knew where to slide."
HE SAID IT
"Nothing clicks unless you're on the field. It's all about what you do in the batter's box, what you're doing on the mound. There's not too much you can do to stop this ship until you go out there and perform and win games when the pressure is on the line." -- Realmuto, on how to turn things around
Whatever the role, Jarlin Garcia has performed. Even though he opened the season in the bullpen, the left-hander has been the Marlins' best overall pitcher. Garcia will make his third start on Monday at 10:10 p.m. ET at the Dodgers. Between his first two starts, he's thrown 11 scoreless innings. The Dodgers will counter with right-hander Walker Buehler, their top prospect, who will make his MLB debut.