David Phelps’ return to the starting rotation continues to provide relief to the Marlins.
Phelps delivered his best and longest start since switching over from the bullpen, throwing six shutouts innings Saturday night to propel the Marlins to a 3-1 victory over the Pirates.
The victory was sweeter personally for Phelps, who lives in the Pittsburgh area in the offseason and had roughly 85 members of his and his wife’s family in attendance.
“My family has been so supportive throughout my career,” Phelps said. “They’re all Pirates fans, so for them to put on Marlins stuff for one night and cheer me on is pretty awesome.”
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The victory leapfrogged the Marlins (64-59) over Pittsburgh (62-58) by a half-game and pulled them within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals (65-57) for the second National League wild-card berth.
The Marlins won a series for the first time since Aug. 5-7 in Colorado after losing their previous three. The Marlins have not swept a series since they finished the first half of the season with a three-game home sweep of the Reds from July 8-10.
Phelps, who has plenty of experience in the majors as both a reliever and a starter, first with the Yankees and now the Marlins, set the tone early in his fourth start since moving into the rotation on Aug. 5.
Phelps gave up only two hits (both to second baseman Josh Harrison) and matched a career high with nine strikeouts.
After compiling a 5-5 record with a 2.65 ERA in 50 appearances as a reliever, Phelps improved to 2-1 with a 1.31 ERA in 20 2/3 innings as a starter. During that span, Phelps has allowed only three runs on a combined 14 hits, while striking out 26 and walking seven.
Phelps has a 2.28 ERA overall, which ranks fourth in the majors among pitchers with at least 20 relief appearances and three starts.
“Health goes a long way,” Phelps said. “I credit our training staff getting me ready to go day in and day out. When they announced I’d be moving into the rotation, I knew it was all hands on deck. If they needed me to pitch the fifth [inning], I’d do it. I got a taste of the postseason my rookie year, and I’m fighting like heck to get back there.”
Phelps threw 96 pitches on Saturday as he continues to build up after his transition from the bullpen.
“The way Phelps has pitched the whole time has been great,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We feel like we’ve got him built up to the point where he’s like every other starter at this point.”
Marlins pitchers really only had trouble with Harrison, who finished 3 for 4 and drove in the Pirates’ lone run in the eighth with a two-out single off Kyle Barraclough.
Mike Dunn worked a scoreless seventh, striking out two before giving way to Barraclough in the eighth.
Fernando Rodney recorded his sixth save in as many opportunities with the Marlins and his 23rd overall this season.
“Being able to close it out and get a good team win is big,” Dunn said. “Teams are going to get on a roll, and we need that to be us.”
Xavier Scruggs gave the Marlins some of the power they were hoping for when they called him up from Triple A New Orleans on Friday.
Scruggs added to a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when he smoked a two-run homer to left field off Chad Kuhl for his first career long ball. Scruggs smacked 21 homers in the minors this season.
He got the home run ball after it was thrown back from the crowd and said he was going to give it to his father, who has collected all of his milestone hits.
“I’m happy to help this team and contribute,” Scruggs said. “That was the most important thing. The big hits are the ones that matter. Ichiro [Suzuki] got on and gave us a chance to put some damage on the board. It was really cool, because [Ichiro] was the first one to congratulate me.”
Ichiro scored on Scruggs’ homer moments after hitting a double for his 3,008th major-league hit. Ichiro passed Al Kaline for 28th on the all-time MLB hits list.
▪ The Marlins plan to activate closer A.J. Ramos from the disabled list on Sunday and will option reliever Brian Ellington to New Orleans.