Heath Bell remained seated inside the Marlins bullpen throughout Saturday’s ninth inning. Only time will tell whether that will remain the embattled closer’s permanent spot in crunch time.
For one night, anyhow, Steve Cishek was assigned the role by manager Ozzie Guillen.
And he delivered, recording the final five outs to preserve a 2-1 victory over the Washington Nationals. Cishek worked the final two outs of the eighth and got through the ninth to nail down an important win for the Marlins against the first-place Nationals.
“When I came in the dugout after the [eighth], he told me I was going to go back out and that got me fired up,” Cishek said. “I went through the process of getting mentally prepared to go out and throw another inning.”
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Cishek threw 28 pitches — 21 of them for strikes — so it’s possible he wouldn’t be used again Sunday if the situation arises. But Guillen liked what he saw of the 26-year-old sidearmer and will likely turn to him again.
On the other hand, Guillen said he still hasn’t ruled out giving the ball back to Bell.
When Guillen spoke with Bell on Saturday to explain his plans, he said he told the pitcher, “We’re a better ballclub” with him on the mound but that “he’s got to work his way up.”
“I’ll try to give him the opportunity to pitch his way back to the closer’s role,” Guillen said.
It was a pitcher’s night at Marlins Park, where Mark Buehrle and Gio Gonzalez — a Hialeah native who had a large contingent cheering him on among the crowd of 28,707 — put up zero after zero on the scoreboard.
Gonzalez breezed through the first three innings, retiring the first nine hitters, five on strikeouts. The Marlins broke through in the fourth, though, after Jose Reyes led off the inning with a single and later scored on Carlos Lee’s single.
The Nationals tied it immediately in the fifth after Ian Desmond bunted his way on and scored on Jesus Flores’ bloop single to left.
But the Marlins regained the lead in the fifth when Emilio Bonifacio reached on a bunt, advanced to second on Donovan Solano’s sacrifice bunt and scored on John Buck’s sharp single to right.
Guillen said Solano missed a sign and wasn’t supposed to bunt, but that it worked out in the end.
Buehrle worked seven innings to record his fourth consecutive victory and improve his record to 9-8. He also struck out seven, extending his string of striking out at least seven batters to four consecutive games.
“I’ve just been throwing well, and John Buck’s been calling a great game,” Buehrle said. “I’m still scratching my head, figuring out why I’m striking all these guys out. I try to shoot for 100 every year just to get to triple digits. I don’t know if it’s the ball moving a lot more now than it usually does. There’s no rhyme or reason why I’m doing it.”
After Buehrle’s exit, Randy Choate was brought in to face Bryce Harper for the lefty-lefty matchup and struck him out on three pitches.
Next in was Cishek, who got Ryan Zimmerman on a bouncer back to the mound and ended the eighth by whiffing Michael Morse on a called third strike.
Cishek got two quick outs in the ninth before giving up a single to Roger Bernadina, who promptly stole second. But Cishek ended the game by striking out Flores.
“Must-win game against the team we’re chasing,” Guillen said.
Said Cishek: “When you play against the Nationals, you know it’s going to be a low-scoring game. We’re down right now and every game is a must-win for us.”