The search for Tom Koehler’s first big-league win continues.
The 26-year-old rookie right-hander from the Bronx — who slid into the Marlins’ rotation a little more than two weeks ago for a struggling Wade LeBlanc — delivered another strong start Wednesday night against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays. But as usual, he didn’t get much help from the marlins offense.
The Marlins produced only three hits off Rays starter Roberto Hernandez, and Tampa Bay took advantage of a couple early runs, sending Miami to its eighth consecutive loss, 3-1, in front of an announced crowd of 16,671 at Marlins Park.
Koehler scattered seven hits over a season-high eight innings and threw 62 of his 97 pitches for strikes. He walked only one batter and struck out four. But in the end, three hits by Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Kelly Johnson to open the game led to two quick runs and just what the Rays (28-24) needed to win their third in a row over the Marlins (13-40).
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“Tremendous job by Tom Koehler,” manager Mike Redmond said. “We had to use quite a few guys the last two games out of the bullpen, so it was big for him to get deep in the game, and he did that. It was great job. He came out and pounded the strike zone, threw some great changeups and really breezed through that game after the first couple innings. He did a nice job saving that bullpen.”
Hernandez, who came in with a 2-5 record and 5.73 ERA, hadn’t thrown more than 6 2/3 innings all season. But he was especially efficient against the worst offensive team in baseball, throwing only 92 pitches, 67 for strikes in recording 26 outs.
Hernandez nearly threw his first complete game since shutting out the Twins 2-0 on Sept.10, 2010 — back when he was known as Fausto Carmona of the Cleveland Indians. But after Placido Polanco’s two-out single in the ninth, Rays manager Joe Maddon brought in closer Fernando Rodney, who retired rookie second baseman Derek Dietrich with a lineout to right to end the game. It was Rodney’s 10th save of the season.
“I hit it well,” Dietrich said. “That was the approach going into it, get a pitch I could hit and drive. I did it. I can’t control the results. I stuck with my approach. He made a great running play. Unfortunately, we hit some balls hard [Wednesday]. We really did. We’re starting to click. This lineup, we’re scoring runs. [Wednesday] we didn’t score as many as the last couple nights. But we’re putting good at-bats together. We’re hitting throughout the lineup. We’re going to keep grinding it out.”
Hernandez’s only mistakes — aside from the Polanco single — were giving up an infield single to Marcell Ozuna in the fourth and a leadoff double to Chris Coghlan in the first.
Coghlan produced the Marlins’ run all by himself, stretching what was going to be a single into a double with hustle and then scoring by tagging up when Polanco flew out to right field. The throw to third base to try and get Coghlan out from Joyce, skipped past third baseman Evan Longoria and into the camera well behind him, allowing Coghlan to score after plate umpire Alan Porter ruled the ball had gone out of play.
The score remained 2-1 until the seventh when James Loney’s one-out double to right was the Rays’ first hit since the second inning. Desmond Jennings singled to put runners on the corners, and Loney came home on Yunel Escobar’s sacrifice fly to right to make it 3-1.
Outside of Coghlan’s hustle and Ozuna extending his hitting streak to 14 games with an infield single that bounced off Longoria’s foot at third, Koehler was about the only other good thing to happen for the Marlins.
In his four starts, Koehler hasn’t given up more than three earned runs and has an ERA of 3.22 over 25 combined innings of work. He has received only five runs of support over that span.
“It’s nice. It shows you they have confidence in me to go out there and face that lineup for the start of the fourth time,” Koehler said of going eight innings. “But it’s tough to sit here and say I’m happy because I’m not. “I’m not happy giving up two runs in the first inning and putting my team in a hole. I’m happy I was able to go eight strong and keep them in the game. At the same time, I’m frustrated in myself, putting them in a hole so early.”