When the Marlins signed Wei-Yin Chen to a five-year, $80 million contract, they wanted the pitcher who went 27-14 with a 3.44 ERA in his final two seasons in Baltimore, not the guy who went into Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays with a 1-1 record and 6.10 ERA in his first dozen home starts in Miami.
Chen, 31, ultimately wasn’t the problem for the Marlins on Monday night. The bats and bullpen were.
A day after pounding out a season-high 15 hits in a blowout of the Pirates, the Marlins’ offense went back to sleep in a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Marlins Park. Miami (11-13) produced only four hits, stranded three runners in scoring position and lost for the fifth time in its last six games.
“I felt like we swung at some balls out of the strike zone,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “[Rays starter Jake Odorizzi is] a guy that presents a little bit of a tough look because of the split down and the fastball up.”
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Veteran reliever Brad Ziegler, who had allowed just one earned run in his first 12 2/3 innings this season, took his first loss of the season. Ziegler had just four walks on the season coming in but gave up a leadoff double to Derek Norris in the seventh and then three free passes in frame in relief of Chen.
The Rays broke the 2-2 tie when Steven Souza’s bouncer to third with the bases loaded brought home Norris with the go-ahead run. The Marlins challenged Kevin Kiermaier’s slide into second base on the play because he prevented Dee Gordon from attempting a throw to first for what could have been an inning-ending double play. But the call on the field stood after review.
“I didn’t have a problem with it,” Gordon said of Kiermaier’s slide. “I thought it was a good slide. I just did my best to try to hold onto the ball. It was a slow chooper, two guys running hard, it would have been dicey getting him at first anyway.
“I'm always prepared to throw the ball. It was just – the way it happened – he got up on me kind of quick with the speed of the ball. I wasn’t going to turn that play anyway.”
Tampa Bay (13-14) then added a run with two outs in the eighth when Daniel Robertson drove in Brad Miller with a single to left off Junichi Tazawa.
Marlins starters this season are 5-8 with a 4.91 ERA (121 IP, 66 ER), which ranks only better than Cincinnati’s starters (6-10, 5.96 ERA). The saving grace for the Marlins this season had been its bullpen, which owned the ninth-best ERA (3.35) in the league through April.
But May started off rough for the normally reliable Ziegler.
“I felt pretty good in the bullpen and went out and I think I was just trying to overthrow a little bit,” Ziegler said. “Giving up the leadoff double didn’t help. It made every pitch after that pretty high stress trying to keep him from scoring. Just trying to be too fine and not trusting my stuff and my defense enough.”
Chen retired 10 of the first 11 hitters he faced before Corey Dickerson picked up the Rays’ first hit on a soft single to left with one out in the fourth. A walk and three batters later, Tim Beckham put the Rays ahead 2-1 on a two-out, two-run double to center.
Marcell Ozuna then tied it at 2 with two outs in the fourth with his seventh home run of the season on a first-pitch swinging 395-foot line drive shot to left. But that homer – and two hits and three steals by Gordon – was basically all the offense for the Marlins.
Miami took a 1-0 lead in the first when Gordon walked, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error and then scored on Christian Yelich’s sacrifice fly to left. Gordon reached third in the eighth but was stranded there when Yelich bounced out to the mound to end the frame.
Mattingly said Gordon, who had his fifth three-hit game of the season Sunday and is tied for the MLB lead for three-hit games, is starting to produce the way the Marlins want him to. He came in with only four steals on the season.
“First we want to see him on base,” Mattingly said. “If he gets on he’s going to steal his share. That’s the biggest thing. In that leadoff spot you want guys getting on. These last couple days he’s been on base. Really that’s what we need out of that spot. It doesn’t matter if it's a walk or a hit. It’s just [getting] on base. If he on base he’s going to cause trouble. You kind of saw it tonight. But other than the homer, we didn’t muster a whole lot offensively.”