Consistent late-inning relief has been a concern for the Marlins’ injury-plagued bullpen.
A game that began with starter Wei-Yin Chen looking like he could throw his first career complete game ended with the bullpen surrendering four runs in the eighth as the Marlins lost to the previously winless Braves 6-3 Friday night at Marlins Park.
Even David Phelps, who has recently begun to emerge as a late-inning option couldn’t completely slam the door on the Braves, who scored their first two runs in the seventh inning and avoided the first 0-10 start by a major league team since their own franchise-worst start to the 1988 season.
The Marlins, who had beaten the Braves six consecutive times to end last season, could have given their pitchers a bigger cushion as well.
Although the Marlins jumped out to a 3-0 lead after five innings with eight hits including doubles by Christian Yelich and Martin Prado in the fifth, they left 13 runners on base.
The Marlins went 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position - a stark contrast from their first seven games of the season during which they went 23 for 67 (.343) – tied for a league-best with the Rockies entering Friday’s game.
“When you leave a couple out there early you do think about it,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “But the way Wei-Yin was going you think hopefully you survive that, but then that flipped on us.
“It was one of those games that we didn’t get the outs we needed and they got the hits when they needed them and we didn’t.”
Chen looked every bit like the pitcher the Marlins (3-5) were hoping for when they invested $80 million this offseason allowing one hit through 6 1/3 innings.
But things unraveled quickly following a strikeout of Markakis to start the seventh.
Chen, who struck out six and surrendered only one walk, gave up three consecutive hits capped by Garcia’s double that broke the shutout and cut the Marlins lead to 3-1.
Chen, who made his first start since the season-opener on April 5 when he was hit near his left elbow by a line drive, left Friday’s game after 83 pitches with runners on second and third and one out.
Chen gave up five runs after lasting five innings in that first start and remained sore following the incident. The Marlins skipped his turn in the rotation and gave him a couple of extra days this past week.
“At that point I wasn’t going to let him go any further having not pitched in nine days,” Mattingly said. “You could tell he was losing his stuff in that inning so I wanted to [make the move] quick.”
Phelps replaced Chen and protected the lead in the seventh inning, allowing an inherited run to score on a ground out, but striking out pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson to end the frame with the Marlins leading 3-2.
But Phelps gave up a single to Tyler Flowers to start the eighth and hit A.J. Pierzynski with a pitch after striking out Drew Stubbs.
“It was the same sequence of pitches I used to strike out Kelly Johnson on the at-bat before,” Phelps said. “[Markakis] is pretty good right over the plate.”
Mattingly replaced Phelps with lefty Chris Narveson to face Nick Markakis, a lefty-hitter.
Markakis tied the game on a single to left field.
Narveson appeared close to getting out of the inning after a fly ball out by Daniel Castro, but he then hit Freddie Freeman with a pitch to load the bases.
Bryan Morris allowed both runners to score, giving the Braves (1-9) the lead for good when Adonis Garcia lined a single to center.
“I think as a unit we’ve been throwing the ball well,” Phelps said. “We’re not going to let one game affect the way we go about our job out there. Our job is to pick each other up and give each other a chance to win and we didn’t do that tonight.”
THIS AND THAT
-With a single in the first inning, Yelich has hit safely in all eight games so far.
-The Orioles claimed right-handed pitcher Scott McGough off waivers a day after the Marlins designated him for assignment. McGough began the season at Triple-A New Orleans and will report to the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk.