So much for the new blueprint.
After dedicating much of their offseason energy and spending dollars to shoring up the bullpen, the Marlins saw it go up in flames on day one when David Phelps — perhaps their best reliever in 2016 — gave up two home runs in a 4-2 loss to the Nationals.
Then again, it was Opening Day, when everything is magnified.
But the outcome wasn’t how the front office envisioned it. The Marlins received a strong start out of Edinson Volquez, only to see it go to waste when Phelps couldn’t protect the 2-0 lead he inherited in the sixth.
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First he gave up a solo blast to Bryce Harper.
Then, with two outs in the seventh inning, Phelps surrendered a go-ahead, two-run shot to pinch-hitter Adam Lind.
“Coming into a game when it’s 2-0, and leaving when it’s 3-2, it’s a pretty big deal,” Phelps said. “Any time you come into a game, we’re winning and leave we’re losing, it’s not good.”
The two shots exposed what is a potential major design flaw with the Marlins’ reconstructed bullpen. It contains not one left-hander, a southpaw the Marlins can count on to nullify the Harpers and Linds of the world.
It didn’t matter so much with Harper. Phelps would have faced him regardless after taking over in the sixth for Volquez. But manager Don Mattingly might have opted for a southpaw when Lind came up with a man on in the seventh and the Marlins clinging to a one-run lead.
Lind pounds right-handers and has had his way in the past with Phelps, having gone 5 for 14 with two doubles and a pair of homers against him. But with no lefty to turn to, Mattingly stuck with Phelps and suffered the consequences.
“Obviously, you’d like to be set up if you had a couple of [lefties], honestly,” Mattingly said. “But we’re just not set up like that. And I’ve seen other teams do without it. It’s going to be what we’re going to have to deal with, and just figure out how we’re going to get through those parts of the lineup.
Phelps wasn’t the only member of the relief corps to throw a clunker Monday. Junichi Tazawa, one of the Marlins’ free agent signings over the winter, failed to retire a batter. Tazawa walked the first two batters he faced before giving up a RBI single to Daniel Murphy.
Next to emerge was another free agent bullpen acquisition, Brad Ziegler, who gave up a single to the first batter he faced, Ryan Zimmerman. Alas, Ziegler got out of the no-out, bases-loaded mess by striking out Jayson Werth and getting Stephen Drew to ground into a double play.
The bullpen’s lackluster performance sullied what was a strong start by Volquez, who was making his Marlins’ debut. Volquez was cool under pressure, unsurprising given the fact he has pitched in a World Series and was making his fifth career Opening Day start.
Take, for example, the first inning.
Volquez ran into immediate trouble when the first two Nationals hitters reached. But Volquez promptly struck out Harper, Murphy and Zimmerman.
“I think that’s kind of who Eddie is,” Mattingly said. “He’s not going to give in. He’s been through a lot, and he’s not going to just waver and throw up the white flag. He’s going to keep battling. It was good to see that today.”
After the Marlins went up 2-0 in the fourth off Stephen Strasburg on RBI hits from Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna, Volquez again ran into trouble in bottom of the inning when the Nationals once again put the first two batters on.
But Volquez whiffed Jayson Werth before inducing a double-play grounder out of Drew to end the threat.
Volquez didn’t make his only mark on the mound. A poor hitter even by pitcher standards, Volquez — a career .082 hitter — singled in both of his at-bats. He and J.T. Realmuto (2 for 4) had two-thirds of the Marlins’ hit total for the game as the bats went quiet late.
Strasburg, who got through seven for the win, and relievers Sammy Solis and Blake Treinen combined to retire the final 13 Marlins batters.
The Marlins just missed on a couple of long balls, though. Harper made a leaping grab on a Christian Yelich ball hit to the warning track in right with two on in the fifth. And Stanton nearly put one out to left in the sixth. But his deep fly ball was caught on the track by Werth.