The bullpen couldn’t lock it down.
After Jeff Locke made a striking first impression in his Marlins debut, the bullpen allowed his performance to go to waste in a 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks on Thursday night at Marlins Park.
Locke came out in the sixth inning with a 2-0 lead.
And then poof.
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David Phelps gave up an RBI single to Paul Goldschmidt in the sixth, allowing one of two inherited runners to score.
In the eighth, Kyle Barraclough walked the only two batters he faced. Brad Ziegler then gave up the go-ahead hit.
It was another discouraging night for a Marlins relief corps that figured to be one of the team’s strong suits. But it has not turned out that way. The bullpen’s ERA of 4.10 going in ranked ninth in the National League.
It didn’t improve any Thursday.
The Marlins (21-31) took a 2-0 lead on the Diamondbacks (34-22) in the third with the help of a fielding error. Giancarlo Stanton’s single scored one run and a second run crossed the plate when right fielder Chris Owings couldn’t come up with the ball.
For Stanton, it was the 578th RBI of his career, which put him in a tie with Mike Lowell atop the Marlins’ all-time list.
Locke took a shutout into the sixth. But after giving up a two-out single to Nick Ahmed, manager Don Mattingly took him out. Locke had thrown 80 pitches, which was more than he had thrown in any of his minor-league rehab starts.
Phelps took over and promptly gave up an RBI single to Goldschmidt to reduce the Marlins’ lead to 2-1.
Locke ended up allowing one run on three hits. He struck out seven and issued zero walks.
But the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead.
After Barraclough walked the first two batters he faced in the eighth, Mattingly brought in Ziegler, who gave up a two-run, go-ahead single to Ahmed.
Barraclough has struggled with his control this season. He has issued 21 walks in 22 1/3 innings while his strikeout rate has declined. Barraclough struck out an average of 14 batters per nine innings in 2016. This season: just 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
“It’s not like I’m getting beat,” Barraclough said. “I’m beating myself. That’s something I need to figure out. I’m trying to figure it out right now.”
Barraclough said he’s leaned on the coaches for advice and looked at video from last year when he dominated. But so far nothing’s clicking, at least consistently.
“I don’t think it’s a mechanical issue,” Barraclough said. “Some of it’s mental. Some of it’s just going out there with a little more confidence.”
The bullpen’s woes spoiled Locke’s strong start.
Locke, who spent the first two months of the season on the disabled list, retired the first 10 batters he faced and struck out five in the first three innings.
“That was a lot of fun,” Locke said of his long-awaited return to the mound. “I felt like a little kid today.”
He pitched like a seasoned star, though. Mattingly was impressed.
“Really good,” Mattingly said of Locke. “I mean, surprisingly good. He looked really sharp, looked like he was doing what he wanted with the baseball. That was nice to see.”
Mattingly said he lifted Locke in the sixth for a couple of reasons. He was at 80 pitches in what was his first game back from the DL. But the greatest factor was Goldschmidt.
“He pitches too good to lose the game right there,” Mattingly said. “It’s also Goldie getting another shot at him.”
So rather than wait to bring in Phelps, his top setup man, Mattingly decided to go to him earlier in a key moment. Goldschmidt got him.
Phelps returned for the seventh and struck out the side.