1 pitch, HBP, ejections: MIA-ATL heated in B1

López tossed after plunking Acuña; ump says 'we felt it was intentional'

July 3rd, 2021

Friday night marked the return of the "Marlins pitching vs. Braves All-Star " saga.

Right-hander was ejected after his first-pitch sinker hit Acuña's left elbow guard to open the bottom of the first inning in Miami’s 1-0 loss to Atlanta at Truist Park. López visibly reacted when the pitch caught Acuña, who turned away from the mound and began to walk toward first base.

Braves manager Brian Snitker came out of the dugout to express his displeasure, and the umpiring crew conferred. Crew chief and second-base umpire Dan Iassogna then made the decision to eject López without issuing a warning. Marlins manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., who were also ejected, pleaded López's case alongside him. There was a delay of 12 minutes and 15 seconds before left-hander Ross Detwiler took over for Miami on the mound.

Detwiler -- who allowed an Ozzie Albies sacrifice fly that plated Acuña with what turned out to be the decisive run in that first inning -- and four other relievers combined on a two-hitter with no runs allowed across eight innings. But the offense was shut out for the ninth time this season, recording two outs on the bases and stranding the bases loaded in the ninth.

“I think my reaction, I was pretty confused,” López said. “You could tell by how Donnie and Mel came out of the dugout [that] they were pretty shocked by it, too. I didn't know how to react. I didn't know what to do, and I just think it caught me by surprise, and it just stinks because the bullpen came and they did a fantastic job, they did an amazing job.”

Iassogna said the umpiring crew is tasked with determining intention and keeping control of the game, and that by ejecting López rather than issuing a warning, it prevented a beanball war. He and the other umpires were aware of the history between the clubs.

“There's numerous things that go into it,” Iassogna told a pool reporter after the game. “Specifically, what type of pitch it is, where the pitch was, where it hit him. Those were our two main factors. You know it was a fastball. It was thrown directly at Acuña, and we felt it was intentional.”

Added Acuña: “I don't know, to be honest, just because of how many times it happened. But whether it was or it wasn't [intentional] it doesn't matter to me. My primary and only focus is the team won.”

For what it’s worth, López’s sinker, which touched the radar gun at 91.6 mph, averages 93.7 mph this season. It is his fourth-most-used pitch (13%) in a five-pitch arsenal.

Those on the Marlins’ side that spoke following the game took umbrage at the fact that the ejection wasn’t immediate if the umpires thought it was intentional, calling the situation mishandled. Mattingly and Co. believed Iassogna was persuaded into the decision.

“I understand Brian [Snitker]'s going to be pissed. You understand that part,” Mattingly said. “He's pissed. It doesn't look good. But there's nothing there. And for it to keep going like this, and for Pablo to get penalized because of something that happened in ‘18, and Dan [Iassogna]'s bringing up the past like we've got a ghost in the house.”

Added Snitker: “Kind of upset. It's the third time they've hit him with the first pitch of the game. I didn't know what was going to happen. I've watched it too much.”

This is a well-documented storyline that stems from José Ureña hitting Acuña with his first and only pitch on Aug. 15, 2018, which led to a benches-clearing incident. Ureña went on to serve a six-game suspension and an undisclosed fine. At the time, Acuña had become the youngest player to go deep in five straight games, with leadoff homers in each of the first three contests against the Marlins. On May 3, 2019, then-Braves starter Kevin Gausman threw behind Ureña and immediately got ejected. It marked Ureña’s first time facing the Braves since the previous August.

Entering Friday’s series opener, Acuña had been hit four times in 236 regular-season plate appearances vs. the Marlins, who lead all opposing teams in this category. The next closest is the Red Sox, who have hit Acuña three times in 59 plate appearances. But Acuña had been hit by Miami pitching just twice since 2019, and none through seven games this season. The two teams had not been warned before the game or during last October’s National League Division Series. Since Acuña’s debut, Brian Anderson has been hit by Braves pitching six times, while Miguel Rojas has been hit four times.

“I'm so disappointed about not just the umpires, but the way they handled the situation, because I'm not throwing my hands in the air every time I get hit by a pitch by them, or every time [Anderson] got hit by pitches in the last four years by them,” Rojas said. “If I have a problem with one of the guys, I will solve it, or I will try to make it right, talking to the pitcher or whatever it is. There's different ways that you can take care of business, and not just [by] going out there and trying to bully the umpire and the other team.”

The past two instances of a starting pitcher throwing exactly one pitch in a game and getting ejected have been Marlins hitting Acuña: Friday and Ureña (Aug. 15, 2018). Ureña is no longer with the club and now pitches for the Tigers. This marked only the 10th game on record in which a starting pitcher threw exactly one pitch, and the first in which that pitcher got a loss (since pitch count data became comprehensive in 1988).

In the head-to-head matchup, Acuña came into Friday 7-for-18 with two homers, four walks and six strikeouts against López, who had not hit him with a pitch. He also entered the series opener slashing .330/.426/.700 with 20 homers and a 1.126 OPS in 51 games against the Marlins, by far his best numbers against any club in his four-year career.

Eleven games remain between these two clubs this season. Mattingly said the Marlins will discuss whether to bring López back after throwing just one pitch on Friday.

“We were just trying to get ahead, but try to pick a spot inside the strike zone,” López said. “You can go back and watch my last start against the Atlanta Braves -- it was a Sunday at home. My first two pitches were fastballs trying to go up and in, in the strike zone. Trying to work ahead, get ahead.

"We all know Acuña’s a superstar. We all know the things he does. You also don't want to put him on base, because he's a guy that can steal 40, 50 bases a year. But that was just a poorly executed sinker. The ball just ran instead of [sinking], and unfortunately hit him, and that's not what I want. That's not what you want on the first pitch of the night.”