The names on the Marlins’ lineup card looked as though they had either been pulled randomly from a hat or were the manifestation of a manager gone mad.
Had Don Mattingly lost his mind?
There was Adeiny Hechavarria in the leadoff spot.
There was J.T. Realmuto batting cleanup.
Given the Marlins’ 9-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday afternoon, perhaps it was the work of genius.
With Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich out with injuries and a left-hander on the mound for the Rays, Mattingly got creative and scribbled down nine names he thought would give the depleted Marlins their best shot at winning.
A re-configured lineup that contained a generous helping of reserves produced a satisfying win for the Marlins, who took the Citrus Series three games to one.
Toss in another dominating start by Jose Fernandez and the result was a victory that kept the Marlins (25-22) in the thick of a four-team logjam in the National League East. Now they head off to Atlanta to face the last-place Braves, who swept them in April in Miami but have gone 2-19 at Turner Field.
Fernandez won for the first time in three tries at Tropicana Field, where he watched his first major-league game after defecting from Cuba. He finished with a dozen strikeouts over seven innings and tied Ricky Nolasco on the team’s all-time list for most career 10-strikeout games with 13.
“I think this is a tough place for him, just because of the emotion of Tampa and the whole thing,” Mattingly said. “This is a place where he kind of has to pull the reins off a little bit.”
Fernandez was dealt with distractions aplenty on Thursday.
First, the Rays mascot was messing with him during his pregame warmups in the bullpen.
Mildly irked, Fernandez plunked the mascot with a changeup.
“The ball was slippery,” Fernandez said with a smile. “He was all over my business, and I’m trying to concentrate. This is a game, and I love to have fun. [But] he was too close. I’ve never seen that. I’m like, ‘Guy, I think you need to move.’ ”
Then, after working out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth by retiring Curt Casali on a foul pop, Fernandez reacted visibly, and it apparently irked some in the Rays dugout.
“It was a tough situation for me,” Fernandez said of the bases-loaded situation. “I showed some emotion. I was like, ‘yeah,’ and I was really happy to get out of it. I heard something from the [Rays] dugout. Didn’t pay much attention to it.”
Fernandez got the last laugh. From the fifth through the seventh, he struck out eight Rays, including all three batters he faced in his final inning.
But it was Mattingly’s odd lineup, something that one is more likely to see in spring training than during the regular season, that came through for the Marlins.
After reserve infielder Miguel Rojas put the Marlins on top in the second by punctuating his 10-pitch at-bat with an RBI single, Hechavarria slammed a two-run homer off Rays starter Drew Smyly.
One inning later, reserve first baseman Chris Johnson also connected on a two-run homer, and Fernandez and the Marlins made it hold up.
Johnson banged out another RBI hit in the eighth, and Cole Gillespie, who was filling in for Stanton, added RBI hits in the eighth and ninth innings.
Fernandez, whom the Marlins drafted out of Tampa’s Alonso High in 2011, pitched poorly in his previous two starts in front of friends and family members at Tropicana, losing both times.
That wasn’t the case on Thursday.
Other than a solo homer he gave up to Brandon Guyer in the third and that shaky fourth inning in which the Rays loaded the bases on him after two were out, Fernandez dazzled in front of his vocal following. He exited after totaling 111 pitches in those seven innings.