The Marlins finally got the quality start they’ve been looking for on Sunday afternoon.
And still found a way to lose.
Rookie Caleb Smith struck out a career-high 10 batters and allowed only two runs on two hits in six innings to give the Marlins a chance.
But for the second game in a row, costly mistakes in the latter innings doomed the Marlins to yet another loss in a 4-2 defeat at Miller Park.
An error and a mental miscue by first baseman Justin Bour squandered a pair of chances late in the game to rally and prevent the Brewers from completing a four-game sweep this weekend.
The Marlins (5-16) dropped their seventh game in the past eight and have lost 13 of their past 16.
“It’s frustrating, obviously,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I don't really know what to say about it other than....frustrating. I don't want to get into the negative side of it but it's definitely frustrating when one of your veteran guys prepares like that.”
Trailing by a run in the seventh, Bour booted a grounder by Eric Thames that allowed a run to score to extend Milwaukee’s lead to 3-1.
Bour then cut the deficit to one again with a single in the top of the eighth.
But on the ensuing at-bat, Brian Anderson popped up to center for the second out. Bour ran on the play and ended up past second base and halfway to third allowing the Brewers to double him up at first for the final out of the inning.
“First off, I’m not getting that ground ball and getting out of the [seventh] inning on [Wittgren] Witt’s ground ball,” Bour said. “That’s pretty frustrating. On the pop-up, I saw the first baseman go behind so I’m thinking right there, two outs, that’s why he’s behind me and just mental lapse.”
After opening the season hitting .162 through his first 10 games, Bour has hit .324 with four home runs and 11 RBI.
But with the margin for error seemingly so slim in the early going of this season, the Marlins can’t afford to keep making such mistakes late in games as they did Sunday just one day after a missed fly ball in the eighth inning by Derek Dietrich led to a 6-5 loss.
“I would much rather go 0 for 4 with four strikeouts than commit an error and do something stupid on the bases,” Bour said. “That leaves a terrible feeling in your stomach so it’s just brutal.”
Smith’s lone mistake was allowing a two-run homer to former Marlin Christian Yelich in the fourth inning which gave Milwaukee a 2-1 lead after he had thrown three perfect innings.
While most of the Marlins’ rotation has run into trouble throwing too many pitches and not being able to stay in games past the fifth inning of late, Smith gave the Marlins a quality start. He threw 77 pitches (55 for strikes) during his six innings and was dramatically better than he had been away from Marlins Park so far this year.
Smith entered the game with a 13.50 ERA, seven strikeouts and 11 walks in 5 1/3 previous road innings, but had a 3.48 ERA in 10 1/3 innings pitched at home with 14 strikeouts and four walks.
“I just went out there with a mentality of seeing how quickly I can get them back in the dugout,” Smith said. “See how many strikes I can throw, and see how fast I could get them to two strikes to put them away.”
Smith did not walk any batters on Sunday.
“Tempo is everything for me,” Smith said. “Once I got into a rhythm. That's what gets me going. I didn't walk anybody. That was the thing I was really working towards today. The results showed. If you don't walk anybody, your success is much better. It felt really good. That's the way I pitched in the past, try to eliminate walks. I felt like myself out there today. The previous four starts, I didn't really feel like myself out there.”
Smith has been tracked as having one of the best spin rates in baseball on his four-seam fastball, which makes that pitch more likely to prompt swings and misses from hitters. Smith’s average of 2,408.94 revolutions per minute per Statcast is above the league average of 2,261.
Smith got 12 swings and misses in Sunday’s start with seven on the 25 sliders he threw and five on fastballs.
“Everything was working,” said J.T. Realmuto. “He was very effective in the strike zone. He got ahead of guys early, was really able to get through the lineup the first time through, primarily with his fastball, which was huge for him. The second time through, he was able to mix a little more, and he was able throw his slider quite a bit and throw it in the zone when he wanted to and throw it out of the zone when he wanted to.”