A source of pride for any pitcher is to induce as much weak contact as possible.
Among all MLB starters, Pablo López has been among the best at getting his share. But on Saturday, a slow roller off the bat of Yandy Díaz did the initial damage and the Marlins weren’t able to recover.
López allowed two runs in seven innings, and Tampa Bay made them hold up in sending Miami to a 4-0 loss at Marlins Park.
“I felt like this is the best Pablo has thrown,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He gives up the run on a Díaz chopper, just unfortunate. … He was able to use all of his pitches. His sequences were good. I thought he did a great job all night. He was really good.”
López, Miami’s most consistent pitcher all season, boasts a 2.10 ERA. The 24-year-old right-hander was extremely efficient, and he kept his infielders on their toes. He threw 88 pitches, inducing 12 ground-ball outs and just three in the air.
“I was very comfortable,” López said. “Good rhythm, in sync. I was on the same page with [catcher Jorge] Alfaro from the very first guy. I just felt like a lot of stuff was working. We were mixing. I thought we weren't falling into any sort of patterns. We just tried to go out there and make quality pitches from the first pitch.”
Entering the night, López’s average exit velocity on balls in play was 85.9 mph, which is in the top 25 among all starters with a minimum of 400 pitches, according to Statcast.
That’s what makes surrendering the first run so frustrating to the Marlins.
With two outs in the sixth inning, Díaz dribbled a 70.1 mph grounder to third. Brian Anderson charged, but he had no play at first, as Michael Perez scored from third. The expected batting average on the hit was .190.
“That happened,” López said. “Frustrating and all. But let the frustration happen after. You still have a job to do. You still have to keep your team in the ballgame and execute the next one.”
On the Díaz roller, López executed the pitch he wanted -- a 96 mph sinker in.
“Nothing you can do about that,” López said. “I really tried to pitch inside with him. It was the right location, but also it was the right speed that he could be safe. There's nothing really that you can do about it. I executed the pitch. I was happy about that. Obviously, the result is a little frustrating. Soft grounder. But you can't let that take you away from the task. You still need to get out of it. You still need to execute the next pitch and limit the damage.”
The Rays tacked on another two-out run off López in the seventh, when Kevin Kiermaier delivered a more solidly struck RBI single at 99.7 mph up the middle. In the eighth, Joey Wendle added a two-out, two-run double against James Hoyt.
As impressive as López was -- two runs on six hits with five strikeouts and no walks -- he received no run support.
For the second straight night, Miami (14-14) was blanked in the Citrus Series. The Marlins fell to 1-7 at home, where they have been shut out three times.
Miami hasn't scored against Tampa Bay at Marlins Park since July 4, 2018, a span of 36 straight innings. The club was shut out twice at home last year and both games this season, making it four straight.
The Marlins managed just three hits off Josh Fleming, who struck out six in 5 1/3 innings in his second big league start.
“That's part of a season,” Mattingly said of the offensive struggles. “There's times when your offense is out there swinging the bats and we're giving up runs and we're winning, 12-10. Things like that. Then there are times you are pitching great and you're not putting any runs up and that's frustrating for everyone.
"It's just kind of the wave of a season. But any time it's happening in a short run like this, it's frustrating. You know you're getting good outings, and you're not really able to do anything with it.”