ST. PETERSBURG -- Some extra rest brought out the best in Pablo Lopez.
The 22-year-old rookie took the mound on Saturday night for the first time in 11 days, and was in total command, matching a career-high with six strikeouts in six innings in the Marlins' 3-2 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Martin Prado delivered an RBI double and Cameron Maybin connected on a solo home run, giving the Marlins enough support to take the first two in the three-game set. Miami has now won four straight, and has three consecutive series victories.
The lone run Lopez allowed was a home run to Joey Wendle to lead off the fourth inning.
"He was really good," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of his rookie right-hander. "He was ahead in the count, and threw a lot of strikes."
Making his fourth big league start since being called up from Triple-A New Orleans, Lopez last pitched on July 10 in a loss to the Brewers. But from the start on Saturday, he was on point. In a clean first inning, the Venezuelan native threw 14 pitches, 12 for strikes, and his four-seam fastball topped at 95.5 mph.
Of Lopez's 89 pitches, 57 were strikes, and he walked just one and hit a batter.
"It felt like a really long time," Lopez said of his long layoff. "I'm happy to come back. It was an exciting game. I had great support from the team, both defensively and offensively, and we picked up a win."
Lopez was perfect through three innings with four strikeouts. But in the fourth inning, Wendle led off with a home run to center that Statcast™ projected at 420 feet with an exit speed of 103.4 mph, trimming Miami's lead in half to 2-1.
Because Lopez is a strike-thrower, teams have been aggressive off him early in counts. He was able to successfully vary his mix of pitches.
"Breaking the rhythm of the batters and mixing the pitches and locations can be huge against a team like the Rays, who like to swing the bat." Lopez said.
Adam Conley, Drew Steckenrider and Kyle Barraclough closed out the night. Barraclough, who wasn't available on Friday due to a stomach virus, allowed a one-out home run to Ji-Man Choi before locking down his 10th save. Choi's home run was a no-doubter, projected by Statcast™ at 460 feet with an exit velocity of 109.4 mph.
The Marlins have now won four of five against the Rays, and they have a chance for their first three-game sweep of the season on Sunday in the Citrus Series finale.
Tampa Bay opened with Ryne Stanek, who worked out of a first-and-third situation with one out in the first inning. From there, left-hander Ryan Yarbrough went the next four innings.
The Marlins pushed two runs across in the fourth inning off Yarbrough. Justin Bour worked a leadoff walk and after Starlin Castro's single, Prado drove an RBI double to left-center. Miguel Rojas' run-scoring groundout to second manufactured the second run.
Maybin's home run came off Hunter Wood to lead off the seventh inning. Maybin has been getting regular time in center field with rookie Lewis Brinson (right hip inflammation) on the disabled list. The veteran provided a crucial insurance run, but the night was another indicator that Lopez has a bright future.
"It was fun," Maybin said. "[Lopez has] been fun to watch since he's been here. He's continued to attack the zone. He continues to put faith in the defense behind him. He pitched great today against a pretty good team. You can see his attentiveness to try to get better. It's been fun to watch him."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Without much run support and with Lopez's pitch count run up, the back end of the Marlins' bullpen stepped up. Conley and Steckenrider pitched for the second straight night, and Barraclough made his first appearance since the All-Star break.
In the seventh inning, Conley induced a double play grounder from Rays rookie Justin Williams with two on. And in the eighth inning, Steckenrider struck out Jake Bauers to strand a runner on second. In the ninth inning, Barraclough allowed the home run to Choi, but then struck out Carlos Gomez and retired Mallex Smith on a routine fly ball to left.
"A.C. was good again tonight," Mattingly said. "You could tell Steck was a lot more comfortable tonight. You never know what you're going to get coming out of the break. And honestly, we didn't know what Claw was going to look like coming out of the break and being sick. But he looked fairly sharp."
The Marlins are 10-8 on the road since June 5 after a 10-21 start.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
A game of inches, they say. That certainly was the case for Maybin in the seventh inning. Maybin blasted a leadoff home run to left off Wood. Per Statcast™, the drive projected at 423 feet with an exit velocity of 108.1 mph and a launch angle of 21 degrees. The blast also came two pitches after Maybin scorched a line drive that landed inches foul down the left-field line. Had it stayed fair, Maybin would have had extra bases. Instead, he regrouped and it worked out better for the 31-year-old outfielder.
"I thought off the bat it was," Maybin said of his foul ball perhaps being fair. "But thank goodness it wasn't. I was like, 'Ah, man. Needed that one.' But it worked out. It's a big run."
HE SAID IT
"I think right now, you're starting to see a young team that slowly, but surely, is starting to learn how to finish games." -- Maybin
Expect a change of pace when Marlins rookie Trevor Richards faces the Rays on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field. In his July 14 start against the Phillies, Richards threw his changeup 36.7 percent of the time, according to Inside Edge. The MLB average is 15.1 percent. Chris Archer goes for Tampa Bay.