After he left his last start early because of elbow stiffness, Marlins fans had every reason to wonder if Henderson Alvarez would make it through even a couple innings Tuesday night.
He ended up doing a lot more than that.
Alvarez produced a big base hit that preceded the game’s only run, turned three double plays and tossed his third shutout of the season, leading the Marlins to a 1-0 shutout of the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.
“That was fun to watch,” manager Mike Redmond said. “I think we all could tell early on in that game he had great stuff, great velocity, great control. I thought [Jeff] Mathis did a great job keeping him in the strike zone and attacking the zone.
“I just felt like he was dominating that game. It was his to lose.”
Henderson’s third complete game of the season was history making in a few ways. For one, it’s the first time a pitcher has tossed three consecutive complete games in interleague play in baseball history.
Secondly, Alvarez only needed 88 pitches to do it — the fewest ever by a Marlin in a nine-inning shutout and one that bested his own previous mark of 90 pitches set earlier this season in a 7-0 win over the Mariners.
And lastly, Alvarez set a new club record for a pitcher with six assists in the game. He also extended his career-long consecutive-scoreless-innings streak to 21 frames — impressive when you consider his last start in Washington six days ago was cut short after five innings by elbow stiffness.
“It helped me to have treatment,” Alvarez said. “The next day I was a bit nervous with the discomfort in my elbow. I wasn’t sure if I could throw hard. Thankfully, throwing the bullpen didn’t bother me. And [Tuesday] I was fine.”
The Marlins (30-28) scored their only run in the fifth on a Christian Yelich bases-loaded walk. Yelich rallied from an 0-2 count, fouled off a pitch and then took two close pitches on the edge of the strike zone for ball three and ball four. The key to the inning, though, was Alvarez’s two-out single to center field, which brought Yelich to the plate and extended the inning.
But it was what Alvarez did on the mound Tuesday that was special.
Despite coming in with a career 0-5 record and 6.28 ERA in five previous starts against the Rays, he kept Tampa off balance with his sinker and changeup. Although he gave up eight hits, Alvarez didn’t walk a batter and struck out five.
“I’ve seen it before. It’s in there,” Mathis said. “When he’s able to locate his sinker to both sides of the plate and mix in his changeup in critical situations, I feel like we have a pretty good chance.”
Alvarez showed early his elbow and arm were just fine. Of his first nine pitches, five registered at 95 mph on the gun, and his fastest pitch clocked in at 96.
The Rays (23-36) had a couple chances to score early against Alvarez, but he shut the door on those rallies. After giving up a pair of leadoff singles in the second, Alvarez rallied from a 3-0 hole to strike out Matt Joyce swinging. Yunel Escobar then hit into an inning-ending double play.
Rays rookie Kevin Kiermaier then reached on a two-out triple to right in the third. But Alvarez got Ben Zobrist to ground out to shortstop.
Tampa then ran itself out of rallies in the fourth and fifth innings. David DeJesus got thrown out attempting to steal second base after a leadoff single.
Then, in the fifth, Escobar tried to pull a fast one on the Marlins after singling to left field and then taking off for second base as Alvarez was returning to the mound with the ball and his back turned. Once he was alerted by Mathis that Escobar was heading for second, Alvarez spun and threw the ball to Ed Lucas, who applied the tag for the out as Escobar was sliding with hands outstretched for the bag.
After the game, the Marlins optioned second baseman Derek Dietrich to Triple A New Orleans. Dietrich has had plenty of defensive struggles. He has committed seven errors, tied with the Braves’ Dan Uggla for the most in baseball at second base.
Redmond said the Marlins will announce a corresponding move Wednesday.