The Marlins welcomed the return of Giancarlo Stanton.
But not even Stanton — not to mention a rare Ichiro Suzuki home run — could put the brakes on a late-season plunge that continued Tuesday with a 4-3 loss to the Phillies. The Marlins have now lost 23 of their past 34 games, leaving them on life support in the Wild Card playoff race.
Sent up as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning, Stanton ripped a single in his first at bat since suffering a groin injury on Aug. 13 and was promptly removed for a pinch-runner.
“Really encouraging to see that,” said Marlins manager Dan Mattingly on a night in which there was little to be encouraged about otherwise.
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While his surprisingly quick recovery can’t hurt the Marlins, it’s probably too late (only 23 games remain) to make a significant impact on their diminishing postseason hopes.
Computer models list the Marlins’ chances of reaching the playoffs at about 1 percent.
Outside of Stanton, the Marlins found little to cheer about in what was another lethargic showing in front of a sparse crowd at Marlins Park. Up against a pitcher (Adam Morgan) with a 1-9 record and 6.21 ERA, the Marlins might as well have been facing Clayton Kershaw, who they’ll be seeing Friday.
Morgan held the Marlins to a run on five hits over six innings.
That lone run came in a frustrating fifth inning in which the Marlins felt they could have done more. With one out and runners at first and second, Adeiny Hechavarria singled to center, driving in one run. But Xavier Scruggs tried to go first-to-third and was thrown out with Stanton waiting in the on-deck circle.
“I thought (the throw) was coming home, trying to be aggressive,” Scruggs said. “In hindsight, it would have been better for me to stay (at second) with Giancarlo coming up. I think he was on deck. So it was probably smarter for me to stay at second there.”
Said Mattingly: “In our minds there, we want him to play the scoreboard. He’s got to be 100 percent if he’s going to go there. We’ve got an inning going, and you know Giancarlo’s on deck. You’ve got a shot right there with Giancarlo to tie the game up.”
Stanton singled sharply to left-center, which would have likely scored Scruggs had he remained at second. Instead, the inning ended quietly when Dee Gordon struck out swinging.
Conversely, Marlins starter Jose Urena was scuffed up out of the starting gate, allowing two runs in the first before allowing two more the rest of his outing, which ended after the fifth.
“Jose, they got him early,” Mattingly said. “It seemed like that first inning, he was out of the zone, basically seemed he was up more today than we’ve seen him the last few outings. More balls up in the zone. Unfavorable counts.”
The Marlins generated some life in the eighth when Suzuki’s first home run of the season, a two-run shot off Phillies reliever Hector Neris, pulled the Marlins to within a run of Philadelphia. It was the first pinch-hit home run of Suzuki’s long career.
“Ichiro’s homer obviously got us back in it, gave us a little bit of life,” Mattingly said.
But that was as close as they got.