Colin Rea had just struck out Cardinals third baseman Jedd Gyorko to open the fourth inning on Saturday night when the pain hit him.
Rea, one of three pitchers acquired by the Marlins as part of a seven-player trade with the Padres on Friday, was cruising in his Marlins debut. He retired 10 of 11 batters he faced to that point, four by strikeout.
And with the Marlins building an early 4-0 lead for him, it looked like Rea’s debut would end on a high note. But he wouldn’t get past that fourth-inning strikeout, exiting the Marlins’ 11-0 shutout win with soreness in his right elbow. The Marlins have him listed as day to day.
“I kind of felt something in my elbow, and it gradually got worse throughout the game,” Rea said. “I don’t know if I could have thrown another pitch.”
Rea said he felt minor tightness in his elbow while he was warming up but didn’t think it was severe enough that it would bother him once the game began.
By the second inning, it got tighter.
By the third inning, even tighter.
“The ball wasn’t coming out as good,” Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis said. “He was still locating, but it just wasn’t coming out as hard.”
By the start of the fourth, Rea knew he had to stop. He called the trainer to the mound and after a quick evaluation his night was over.
“I really wanted to see if I could pitch through it and fight through six, seven innings,” Rea said, “but I just couldn’t do it.”
With the Marlins already dealing with injuries in their starting rotation — lefty Wei-Yin Chen is on the disabled list with an elbow injury and righty Tom Koehler left his last start on Tuesday with tightness in his pectoral muscle and had his next start pushed back to Wednesday to get a couple extra days of recovery — Marlins manager Don Mattingly said he was not going to take any chances.
“That was enough for us,” Mattingly said, adding that Rea will likely be evaluated on Sunday. “Obviously, we’re going to be cautious.”
Rea added: “It’s just unfortunate. There’s never good timing for this, but this isn’t a good time. Just getting to a new team, you kind of feel like you’re letting your teammates down a little bit. It’s tough.”
But while Rea left early, the Marlins (56-48) picked him up and pulled off their most lopsided win of the season, a victory that put them back into a tie with the Cardinals (56-48) for the second National League wild-card spot heading into Sunday’s homestand finale.
David Phelps, a reliever with 59 career starts, replaced Rea and delivered 2 2/3 scoreless innings of his own with four strikeouts. After allowing a two-out walk and double in the fourth, Phelps retired seven of the final eight batters he faced to earn the victory. He’s now 5-5 on the year, and his ERA dropped to 2.65.
With relievers Nick Wittgren and Dustin McGowan essentially unavailable after throwing two innings apiece on Friday, Phelps knew he was on call in case a reliever needed to go multiple innings on Saturday.
It took 55 pitches, but he managed to carry the Marlins through the sixth inning.
“I knew what kind of shape we were in with the bullpen, and I didn’t want to have guys throw that didn’t need to throw,” Phelps said. “I was trying to eat up as much as I could.”
The Marlins’ offense gave the pitching staff all the support it needed with a four-run first inning that culminated with Marcell Ozuna’s 19th homer of the year, a no-doubt shot to left-center field.
They added four more runs in the fourth and three in the sixth to put the game out of reach.
Ichiro Suzuki went 0 for 2 after entering for Giancarlo Stanton in the sixth inning, remaining two hits away from the 3,000-hit milestone for his major-league career.
Every Marlins starting position player reached base and six recorded extra-base hits.
“We were able to add on, which is nice,” Mattingly said. “They’ve got a dangerous club that can put some runs on the board quick. We’ve seen that over the last couple of days. We were able to continue on, and that kind of relieved what we wanted to do.”
Kyle Barraclough, A.J. Ramos and Brian Ellington closed out the Marlins’ seventh shutout win of the season.
The Cardinals had just six hits and struck out 12 times.
“We obviously needed the win, but not at that cost [of potentially losing Rea],” Phelps said. “Hopefully it’s nothing, but you never want to see a starter come out of the game when you’re strapped for starters to begin with.”