Drawing a league suspension after hitting the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. with a pitch might have been the best thing that ever happened to Jose Urena.
He’s been magnificent ever since.
Urena helped salvage an otherwise dismal road trip for the Marlins on Sunday by pitching them to a 6-4 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Marlins went just 2-7 on a road trip that took them to Pittsburgh, New York and Philadelphia, and it was Urena who claimed both of the wins, including one over Mets ace and Cy Young Award contender Jacob deGrom.
Urena went five innings on Sunday before he was taken out for precautionary reasons when his right hand began cramping. Neither he nor the Marlins believe it to be anything serious and expect him to make his next start.
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And that’s a good thing for the last-place Marlins, who are crawling to the finish line, with wins few and far between.
Urena has been their best pitcher by far. But he’s been even better since the Acuna incident on Aug. 15 when he was ejected -- and then suspended -- after striking the Braves rookie with his very first pitch. Urena has maintained he did not intend to hit Acuna on purpose.
But he sure has been a vastly improved pitcher, going 4-0 with a 2.16 ERA in his five starts since. He would be 5-0 during that stretch had the bullpen not blown his non-decision start in Boston.
“I don’t know if that’s the reason why he’s pitching better,” catcher Bryan Holaday said of the Acuna incident. “But it definitely hasn’t hurt him.”
Urena attributes his improvement to a curve ball that he is throwing more frequently and with a new grip. While it was the new grip that brought on the hand cramp that resulted in his early exit on Sunday, the curve is also what’s helping him notch wins on a team that doesn’t win often.
“If you look at the first half, I didn’t throw the curve ball,” Urena said. “Now I’ve been throwing more. And I’m throwing a different change-up, too, so that’s made the difference.”
Sunday’s win for the Marlins snapped a five-game losing streak and capped off what had been a dreary road trip.
Peter O’Brien hit a two-run homer and Holaday drove in a pair of runs with two doubles as the Marlins prevented the Phillies from completing a sweep of their series.
Urena’s outing started ominously when he gave up a home run to Cesar Hernandez on his very first pitch. But he gave up only two more hits over the next four scoreless innings before coming out.
The Marlins have gone just 10-26 since Aug. 15, the day Urena hit Acuna. But it would have been much worse without Urena, as they are 4-1 in games he’s started and 6-25 in the ones he hasn’t.
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