If the Marlins can mirror the type of starting pitching they had this weekend against the Braves, they’ll like their chances of challenging the reigning National League East champions in this 60-game sprint of a season.
What proved costly for Miami over the weekend was a lack of run support. That was the case again on Sunday in the Marlins’ 4-0 loss to the Braves at Marlins Park, as Nick Markakis had two hits and drove in three runs. Miami was shut out for the first time in 2020.
The Braves’ offense came to life after Elieser Hernandez, who matched a career high with nine strikeouts, exited after five shutout innings.
“That's what we're happy about, and that's what we were excited about going into Spring Training,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We knew we had some guys who were improving. What we're seeing is kind of what we expected of these guys. They're moving in that direction.”
After the Marlins claimed the series opener, an 8-2 decision on Friday night, the Braves won the next two to move into a first-place tie with Miami atop the division.
“Elieser had a great fastball today, and he had a good feel for his slider,” catcher Ryan Lavarnway said. “His changeup was working early in the game for him, too. I feel like the more he throws that slider, the better it gets. Even if it's not the best feel he has for it early in the game, we're going to keep throwing it. We were able to execute the game plan really well.”
In all three games of the series, Miami’s starters really honed in on the art of changing speeds.
The results were obvious.
“You have to have pitchability with certain guys,” Mattingly said. “You're going to have to get more than one thing over in this league. You can't just throw fastballs up there and think because you've got power, you're going to be OK. You're going to have to be able to get offspeed pitches over, and you've got to be able to do different things.”
Braves lefty Robbie Erlin struck out five over four scoreless innings in his first start of the season.
According to Statcast, Hernandez came into Sunday throwing his four-seam fastball 65.5 percent of the time. Of his 81 pitches on Sunday, 44 were four-seam fastballs and 34 were sliders.
“It's actually a little weird. My slider has not been my primary pitch, it was the changeup,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. “But now my slider is working a little bit better, and I'm not using my changeup as much.”
The Marlins used a similar pattern of pitching on Friday and Saturday. In the series opener, López threw 88 pitches, with just 15 four-seam fastballs, 22 sinkers, 15 cutters and 28 changeups.
Castano, the rookie left-hander, threw 80 pitches, with 35 four-seamers, 24 changeups, 15 sliders and six sinkers in a 2-1 loss on Saturday.
In the fifth inning, Mattingly was tossed by home-plate umpire James Hoye for disputing balls and strikes.
The pitch that got Mattingly to snap from the dugout was a ball called on the low, outside corner that ran the count to 3-1 to Tyler Flowers, who ended up getting a single.
The Marlins have had this same umpiring crew over their last eight games, dating back to last weekend at the Mets, and they have not been pleased with the crew’s strike zone.
“That's not worth going into, honestly,” Mattingly said. “We've had these guys three series in a row. When you have them that long, there's a lot of complaints from some guys. It is what it is.”
But the Marlins managed just two hits, dropping a series in which both teams were shorthanded due to key players on the injured list.
The Marlins received some good news on their injury front. All 18 players on the IL have been cleared by the joint committee to return to the practice field.
That long list includes Opening Day starter Sandy Alcantara, left-hander Caleb Smith, shortstop Miguel Rojas, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Harold Ramirez. The 18 are reporting to the alternate training site in Jupiter, Fla. How long they will take to get back into game shape is tough to determine.
For the pitchers especially, the club has made it clear that it doesn't plan on rushing anyone.
“Two days ago, we put eight runs on the board,” Mattingly said. “We're getting good pitches. I just think we haven't played good enough to win the last couple of games. We pitched good enough last night, we gave up two runs, but we just weren't able to score. And today, we were in the game until the seventh, we were in a one-run game.”