With the score tied, a runner on third, first base open and weak-hitting pitcher David Phelps waiting in the on-deck circle, Washington manager Dusty Baker elected to pitch to Adeiny Hechavarria.
The gamble backfired.
Hechavarria stroked a two-out RBI single that gave the Marlins the lead, and they never looked back for their first win of the season on Thursday, spoiling the Nationals’ home opener, 6-4.
“It’s a big win to get, especially rolling into an off day,” Phelps said. “We got in late last night. You go into an off day 0-3 after the games we’ve played so far, it’s really big to take some confidence into the off day.”
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The outcome didn’t hinge entirely on Baker’s curious third-inning move, as the Marlins received plenty of additional help from the bottom half of their order. But it was a factor.
The Marlins and Nationals each scored three runs in the first before a sudden downpour prompted an 85-minute rain delay and brought about starting pitcher Adam Conley’s early exit.
While Marlins manager Don Mattingly decided the wait was too long to risk sending Conley back out when play resumed in the second, Baker didn’t share that same philosophy, allowing his starter, Tanner Roark, to go back out.
Instead, Mattingly opted for Phelps, and the veteran long man came through, chewing up four scoreless innings and even providing a lift with his bat with an RBI single.
“The hero of the game, without question, was Phelps,” reliever Craig Breslow said.
Mattingly approached Phelps during the delay and told him that, because of a tired bullpen and the fact Conley was only good for one inning on Thursday, he needed him to eat up some innings.
“He asked me what my comfort level on my pitch count was, and I told him, ‘I could probably give you around 60,’ ” Phelps said. “He was honest with me. He was like we need to get some innings, because our bullpen was kind of tired coming in today. I was just trying to get us through the fifth, at least.”
Phelps did exactly that, holding the Nationals to a pair of hits while striking out three. Then it was up to what was left of the bullpen to get the Marlins through the next four innings.
Bryan Morris huffed and puffed his way through 1 2/3 innings, throwing 48 pitches in that span and allowing a solo homer to Bryce Harper.
“We had to cover innings,” Morris said. “When Conley couldn’t go back out, we had eight innings to cover with about seven innings worth of pitchers.”
Breslow provided 1 1/3 innings, and A.J. Ramos closed out the win with his first save.
“It wasn’t something we were going to be panicking over if we lost three in a row,” Ramos said. “But it was nice to get the win.”
Unlike their first two games, when they were never able to gain the lead on the Tigers, the Marlins on Thursday scored early and continued adding on runs in the middle innings.
After Justin Bour led off the fifth with the first of his two doubles, Phelps — a career .118 hitter — singled him home for his first major-league RBI.
The Marlins added another run in the seventh when Hechavarria came up with yet another two-out, run-scoring hit.
It was a productive day for the lower half of the Marlins’ lineup. The five-through-nine hitters combined to go 9 for 23 with six RBI and three runs scored.
“A lot of big hits for us today,” Mattingly said.