MIAMI -- Coming off the best start of his young career -- six innings of two-hit and one-run baseball at Tampa Bay on Saturday -- it seemed as though rookie Pablo Lopez was poised to rattle off a few quality starts and find his groove.In Friday's 9-1 loss to the
MIAMI -- Coming off the best start of his young career -- six innings of two-hit and one-run baseball at Tampa Bay on Saturday -- it seemed as though rookie Pablo Lopez was poised to rattle off a few quality starts and find his groove.
In Friday's 9-1 loss to the Nationals, however, Marlins fans were reminded that although he has shown signs of greatness, this rookie still has a lot to learn, especially on a night when Max Scherzer was dealing.
Scherzer, who allowed one unearned run in eight innings, scattered three hits. Miami didn't crack the hit column until the fifth, when Martin Prado leaked a ground ball through the middle. Prado added an RBI double past third baseman Mark Reynolds in the seventh to score the Marlins' lone run. J.T. Realmuto singled in the eighth.
"He didn't give us a whole lot to hit tonight," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Scherzer. "Tonight, you've got to give Max a lot of credit. It looked like he was hitting edges, both sides. He was pretty good tonight."
Scherzer had 11 strikeouts and reached the 200-strikeout mark for the seventh straight season. Lopez, who said he's always been a fan of Scherzer, was impressed at first but quickly focused on doing his part.
"He's one of the best at what he does. He's the horse, he's the ace of that team," Lopez said. "The way he competes on the mound is something I've always admired. I've always been a Scherzer fan and watching him is really fun, but at the same time, there was a job that needed to be done … to support my teammates."
Lopez didn't have his best stuff, however, and ran into trouble early and often, surrendering runs in each of the first three innings.
Trea Turner got Washington's offense started in the first, knocking a double into right-center and scoring on a Matt Adams base hit up the middle. National League Rookie of the Year Award candidate Juan Soto continued his scorching hot stretch against Miami, making matters worse with a mammoth solo home run into the upper deck in right in the top of the second.
Soto added a two-run triple in the Nationals' five-run eighth inning. He finished the day 3-for-5 and a double shy of the cycle.
Lopez lasted 5 2/3 innings with four runs allowed on nine hits in his second rough outing against the Nats. The right-hander allowed five runs on five hits in five innings in Miami's debilitating 14-12 loss at Nationals Park on July 5.
Although he was tagged with the loss and his struggles in the early innings cast a shadow on his performance, Lopez still showed why he is the team's No. 18 prospect -- according to MLB Pipeline -- and looks to be a cornerstone of Miami's rotation for years to come.
"Pablo really battled," Mattingly said. "He had a chance to go six and keep us in the ball game. I was happy with his battle and fight to hang in there with those guys tonight. He still had to get guys out there in other innings. I didn't think Pablo had his best stuff, talking with J.T. But he really fought tonight."
Lopez settled down in the fourth and fifth and was able to extinguish any other scoring opportunities. When he found his spots, he was tough to touch, fanning Bryce Harper and Turner among his three strikeouts.
Of the 97 pitches Lopez threw Friday night, 58 were strikes. According to Statcast™, Lopez had 12 swinging strikes as his primary pitch -- the two-seam fastball -- fluctuated between 90.8 and 94.9 mph.
"You just can't make mistakes," Mattingly said. "When you get the ball to certain parts of the plate, your chances go up in getting certain guys out. If the ball leaks on you, and gets to a part of the plate you don't want to be in, guys are going to make you pay."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After Lopez plunked Scherzer on the left elbow with a man on and two outs in the sixth, Mattingly elected to make a call to the bullpen and brought on Elieser Hernandez to try and work out of the jam. The right-hander walked Adam Eaton to load the bases but caught Turner looking on a 3-2 fastball.
Hernandez went on to pitch a scoreless seventh, striking out Harper and inducing a weak flyout from Reynolds to end the frame.
"For a guy that hadn't pitched since the break, until last night, he's holding his own," Mattingly said. "As a guy that is another example for me of a guy that's got his head on right from a standpoint of makeup, paying attention to what he's doing out there. His work is just methodical, day in and day out.
With rumors swirling about the Marlins potentially sending one of their talented relievers to a contender before Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, the 23-year-old Hernandez proved that even the youngest members of this Miami bullpen can still be effective.
"He's a young kid," Mattingly explained. "You feel like he's going to get better and you feel like you can trust him because he can think out there."
While the vast majority of hitters hate to face Scherzer, Prado has always had his number.
With his two hits tonight, Prado has a .474 average (18-for-38) against the three-time Cy Young Award winner.
"His makeup and everything is one of the best in the game. It's always a tough game when you know you're going to face him," Prado said. "He's not afraid to throw his best pitch and sometimes hesitations, overreacting or trying to be too aggressive will be your worst enemy. I try to just stay calm and wait for my location. I know he's going to attack and sometimes you get lucky."
HE SAID IT
"I hope no one thinks that it was intentional. It was an accident. The ball slipped out of my hand. My release point was a little off towards the end. It happens." -- Lopez, on hitting Scherzer with a pitch
The Marlins send rookie Trevor Richards to the mound to try to quell the Nationals' bats Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Richards struggled with command in his last start against Washington, walking a career-high seven batters in just 3 2/3 innings on July 8 at Nationals Park, though he allowed only one run over his two following starts. The Nats counter with southpaw Giovany Gonzalez.
Max Goodman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Miami. Follow him on Twitter @Max_Goodman97.