MIAMI -- The biggest impact Caleb Smith generally makes is on the mound, with a moving four-seam fastball and slider that are big reasons why he has a 10.85 K/9 ratio. But on Friday night, along with fanning six in six innings, the Marlins’ left-hander had an impact on the bases.
Momentum changed for Miami in the third inning. With two outs, Smith on first and the Marlins trailing 2-1, Mets left-hander Jason Vargas made six pickoff attempts on Smith, including three straight when he was ahead in the count, 1-2, to Granderson.
Brian Anderson added a two-run homer, and the trio of home runs accounted for five of Miami’s eight runs.
“That was different,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I don't quite know what was going on with that. Seemed to kind of get [Vargas] out of his rhythm a little bit. Got into a count with Grandy.”
Smith has never had a stolen base in professional baseball, and the Miami left-hander has just three hits this season, and six total in his MLB career.
“Apparently, I look pretty fast over there,” Smith said when jokingly asked if he was a base-stealing threat.
After Vargas repeatedly threw over to first, Granderson ended up working the count full before belting his two-run homer to put the Marlins up, 3-2, and in the lead for good. Cooper followed with his homer to make it 4-2.
“I was trying to understand what was going on,” Granderson said of Vargas keeping a close eye on Smith. “Making sure I gave Caleb a little bit of time to rest there, but he was going back, standing up. Usually if guys dive, then I try to get them more time. A lot of pitchers try to disrupt rhythm by doing some things like that. The good thing for me is, I don't have a lot of moving parts.”
Smith said at one point during Granderson’s long at-bat, first-base coach Trey Hillman told him that Granderson was about to homer.
“That was awesome,” Smith said. “I was standing on first. After the third or fourth pickoff [throw], Trey came over there and he mentioned, 'He's about to hit a homer right here.' And it happened.”
Vargas noted that he knew Smith was not a threat to steal. But he was still trying to tire out the Miami left-hander.
“If we caught him going or them moving him to stay out of a force play, that would've been great,” Vargas said. “It takes a little bit out of you to dive. Had more of that to do with it than thinking that he was going to steal. I was trying to take advantage of him putting himself in a situation where he's going to have to work harder. I didn't make the pitch that I needed to make.”
Granderson’s homer was the momentum-swinging moment, and got Miami on track.
“I thought the approach was pretty good,” Mattingly said. “Early on, Vargas had us off stride. Second time through, it got better. We just were able to get to him and then be able to keep adding on. That was huge for us.”
The Marlins played an impressive all-around game, and got a defensive boost from catcher Jorge Alfaro in the third inning.
On the play, Alfaro experienced a Statcast first when he started a 2-6-4 double play. With Amed Rosario on first and Vargas at the plate, Alfaro fielded a bunt and went to Miguel Rojas at second for the force. The throw was clocked at 93.4 mph, making it the hardest-thrown assist to second base by a catcher since Statcast began tracking in 2015.
The only harder throw to second by a catcher was 94 mph, last year by Alfaro when he was with the Phillies. On that play, however, he was charged with an error.
The Marlins entered the second half ranked last in the Majors in home runs, with 68. They’re even less of a home run threat at spacious Marlins Park, where they had gone deep just 28 times prior to taking the series opener against New York.
Miami may even have two approaches, one for home and another away. If not consciously, there is a disparity in how they impact the ball. At Marlins Park, the team exit velocity is 86.9 mph, while on the road it’s 89 mph. And their average launch angle at home is 7.2 degrees, down from 8.6 degrees on the road.
On Friday, the Marlins were rewarded for their hard hits.
“I think it's just trusting whenever you barrel the ball, and get it the right way, it will go,” Anderson said. “It's easy to get caught up trying to do too much at this park, kind of knowing how it can take away some home runs and doubles. For us, it's a matter of staying with it. When you get those balls to the warning track, just keep trying to do the same thing, and keep trying to drive the ball.”