It is turning into an avalanche of losses.
On a night when Jose Fernandez was on the mound for them, one of their few bright spots in a season of muck, the Marlins still discovered a way to lose.
This time it was a sloppy seventh inning, one marked with fielding and mental miscues, not to mention a couple of overturned calls, that led to their 6-3 unraveling on Friday to the Braves.
“Just an inning that got away from us,” manager Dan Jennings said.
Much to his dismay, Fernandez was gone by then, lifted after just five innings and 78 pitches.
Because Fernandez had thrown 112 pitches in his previous start and labored through a 38-pitch fourth inning Friday, Jennings decided to side with caution and removed his ace.
“We said we’re going to use the common-sense approach with him,” Jennings said of Fernandez, who was making only his seventh start since returning from Tommy John surgery. “We felt like it was the right thing to do and the right time. We have to be smart in how and what we do where he’s concerned.”
Fernandez was surprised by the decision and begged to stay in. But his pleas fell on deaf ears.
“Obviously, I want to give my team a chance to win,” Fernandez said. “I always want to be out there. But I think it was the right call by the manager. My two starts before this one have been long. I had that long inning, 38 pitches. So why risk it?”
The Marlins have gone 5-16 since the All-Star break and, with no sight in end to the nosedive, are on pace for 100 losses.
The night began innocently enough, with Fernandez retiring the first nine batters he faced. But matters began to turn south for Fernandez when he needed 38 pitches to get through a fourth inning in which the Braves scored twice.
“They fouled off some good pitches there,” Fernandez said. “They’re professional hitters. They know what they’re doing. I was just trying to do my best. They got two runs. I tried to battle out there today.”
When the Marlins rallied for three runs in the seventh to take a 3-2 lead, Fernandez was off the hook for what would have been his first major-league loss in 455 days.
What couldn’t be avoided was another Marlins loss.
Thanks to two fielding errors by shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and a mental breakdown by catcher Jeff Mathis, the Braves came up with four runs to take a 6-3 lead.
Going into the game, Hechavarria had made only four errors all season.
“Got a Gold Glove shortstop and he gets two errors,” Jennings said of Hechavarria. “That’s something we haven’t seen all year. Very uncharacteristic of a guy who’s played and made the plays that he has.”
The score was 3-3 when, with the bases loaded and one out, third baseman Martin Prado fielded Daniel Castro’s ground ball and fired home for the force. The throw was in time, and the runner was called out.
But Mathis didn’t have his foot on the plate, and the call was overturned on replay.
“The No. 1 goal is to catch the ball,” Mathis said. “Martin made a good throw. He [the runner] was on me a little bit, but not where I needed to move, or get out of the way. I’ve just got to keep my foot on the ground, on the plate. That’s all there is to it.”
The Marlins also had another call overturned on them in the same inning, adding further to their misery.
It has been that kind of season.
For Fernandez, four of his five innings could not have been better. He retired every batter he faced in the first, second, third and fifth frames. But it was the fourth that proved his undoing.
After striking out Jace Peterson to get things going in the fifth, Castro walked to give the Braves their first base runner. He would not be their last. Nick Markakis fouled off six straight pitches from Fernandez before ripping a single into center, and the Braves were on their way.
Three more singles followed off Fernandez, producing two runs. By the time the inning ended, Fernandez had thrown 38 pitches.
One inning later, Fernandez was through.
Kendry Flores took over and worked two scoreless innings before the seventh inning arrived and the wheels came off. First, Hechavarria overshot first base with a throw and was charged with his first error in 43 games. Apparently, it became infectious.
On the very next batter, Hechavarria booted a ground ball for another error.
Then came Mathis’ misplaced foot.
Jennings was ejected in the ninth for arguing a strike call, and that’s how it ended.
“Just a difference of opinion in the strike zone,” Jennings said of his dispute with home plate umpire David Rackley. “Your job as a manager is to protect your players. But, from my vantage point, it didn’t look like those pitches were strikes.”