Who needs Giancarlo Stanton, anyway?
With Stanton on the bench with an injury, his seldom-used replacement — Cole Gillespie — came through on Wednesday night for the Marlins with the go-ahead hit in their 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Gillespie had only eight pinch-hit at-bats without a hit since being called up on April 29 when Dee Gordon was suspended for 80 games for drugs. But with Stanton sitting out because of side soreness, Gillespie stepped up with his first hits of the season.
He doubled in the fourth for his first hit of the year.
In the eighth, his single to right scored J.T. Realmuto with what turned into the deciding run.
“I think it was big [in] my second at-bat to get that double,” Gillespie said. “I felt a little bit of pressure was taken off my bat. It’s always nice to get that first one out of the way.”
But it was the second hit that helped determine the outcome. After Realmuto singled to start the inning and advanced to second on Chris Johnson’s sacrifice bunt, Gillespie stroked a single into right that pushed the go-ahead run across.
The first three games of the series, two of them won by the Marlins, have each been decided by one run.
Gillespie made a strong argument to make the Opening Day roster out of spring training but, because he was out of options and the extra outfield spot on the Marlins was controlled by Ichiro Suzuki, he was waived. He could have signed with any team but decided to stick with the Marlins and went to Triple A New Orleans.
“I just felt like this has been a good fit for me,” Gillespie said of the Marlins. “Last year was really my first opportunity to play. I felt like this organization really believed in me and there was a comfort level there.”
Wednesday was Gillespie’s first start though, and it came about only because Stanton was dealing with soreness on his right side. It’s possible he could remain in the lineup Thursday afternoon when the teams close out the series.
“It’s just been a pinch-hit role so far, so I was kind of eager to get that first start out of the way,” Gillespie said.
It was another productive night for the Marlins’ hottest hitter, Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna, who brought a .424 average for the month of May into Wednesday, came up with a two-run single in the third that gave the Marlins a 3-1 lead.
Ozuna has now reached base in 32 consecutive games, the longest such streak in the majors this season.
But it was ex-Marlin Logan Morrison who continued to torment his old team, crushing a two-run homer off Justin Nicolino that tied the score in the sixth. Morrison has gone 7 for 9 in the series so far, adding three more hits to his Citrus Series collection on Wednesday.
Not that Nicolino looked like the second coming of Nolan Ryan, but he somehow struck out six batters, which is like 16 for anyone else. His strikeout rate of 1.84 per nine innings was the lowest in the majors entering play on Wednesday.
“I know it’s pretty weird seeing six strikeouts,” Nicolino said. “I honestly didn’t do anything different than I’ve done this year or all last year. We were getting a lot more swings and misses than we normally do.”
After Gillespie gave the Marlins the lead, David Phelps and A.J. Ramos took care of the rest.
Phelps struck out three in the eighth before Ramos came on in the ninth to register his 24th consecutive save opportunity dating to last season.