Two starts ago, it looked like Nathan Eovaldi had figured it out.
He was getting more extension on his delivery, hitting triple digits on the radar gun and setting down the Cincinnati Reds with ease.
Turns out that might have only been a mirage.
For the second start in a row and seventh time in his past 10 appearances, the Marlins lost with the Texas fireballer on the mound, dropping a 5-4 decision Wednesday afternoon to the last-place Rangers at Marlins Park.
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As usual, the Marlins (63-63) made things interesting late.
Marcell Ozuna and Jarrod Saltalamacchia blasted a pair of solo home runs in the ninth off Rangers closer Neftali Feliz to pull within a run. But Feliz shut the door when he struck out Donovan Solano swinging to end the game.
“Too many runs early,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “Day game, 12:40 start, we’ve got to come out of the chute and put up some zeros and give our offense a chance to get going. To give up those five runs in two innings, that can’t happen. We’ve got to do a better job.
“And we’ve talked about with Nate [the] big innings. He’s had big innings, and they’ve cost us. Had we gotten through those innings earlier with some zeros, we could’ve won that game.”
Although the Marlins closed out their longest remaining homestand of the season 6-3, they blew an opportunity to gain ground in the playoff chase. They entered the day 2 1/2 games back of the Giants and Braves in the race for the final wild-card spot.
Up next for Miami: a pivotal nine-game road trip that begins Friday at last-place Colorado before stops at American League West-leading Los Angeles and then Atlanta.
“It’s important to get those three [in Colorado],” Marlins All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton said. “We know how the Angels and [Braves] are. So it will be huge.”
On Wednesday, Eovaldi’s continuing struggles were the story. On June 23, the 24-year-old was 5-3 with a 3.52 ERA. Over his past 10 starts — including Wednesday’s — he is 1-5 with a 4.90 ERA. The Marlins are also 3-7 in those games.
On Wednesday, Eovaldi gave up nine hits, five runs (four earned) and lasted only five innings. The Rangers (49-77) scored all five of their runs in the first two innings with clutch, two-out hits.
In the first inning, it was Miami Westminster Christian graduate J.P. Arencibia who got Eovaldi. He doubled to left to bring home Alex Rios. A bobbled ball on the relay throw from left field by shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria allowed Adrian Beltre to score all the way from first base. Leonys Martin followed with an RBI single to right to make it 3-0.
Rios then plated two more runs in the second when he blooped a double down the right-field line just beyond the reach of a sliding Stanton.
“It’s a tough play, but you’ve got to make those if you’re going to continue to win games and close games like that,” Stanton said. “If you make that play, it’s 3-3 possibly.”
Eovaldi said his off-speed pitches continue to be too inconsistent, and his slider didn’t have enough of a good bite to it Wednesday.
“I’m just trying to figure that out,” Eovaldi said. “I’ve got to limit those bad innings. It’s just been a struggle the whole season.”
Rangers rookie right-hander Nick Martinez, a Miami native and Belen Jesuit graduate, took advantage of the early 5-0 lead and put on a good show for his friends and family, who were among the paid crowd of 16,672.
A small cheering section behind the Rangers’ dugout roared throughout the day watching the former 18th-round pick out of Fordham University deliver six strong innings. He held the Marlins to two runs on six hits and struck out a career-high seven as he improved to 3-9 in his first season in the big leagues.
Ozuna finally got the Marlins on the board with an RBI double down the third-base line in the fourth. He later scored on a wild pitch.
But that was all Miami could muster against Martinez. The Marlins finished 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and left seven runners on base.
“This was very special,” Martinez said. “I got to pitch in my hometown against a team I grew up watching. That was pretty cool — even better we came out on top.”