Marlins get ready for home opener
Statistically, Trevor Richards had never been better than he was Wednesday. The starting pitcher threw a career-high 108 pitches. He tossed six shutout innings for the first time in 2019. He threw his changeup as well as always and paired it with a livelier-than-usual fastball at Great American Ball Park.
All he could dwell on, though, were the negatives — two innings without command of his fastball and, of course, the two runs the Cincinnati Reds scored against the Miami Marlins bullpen to rally for a 2-1 win in Cincinnati.
“I want to progress with every start. I want to get better every time I go out there,” Richards said, “but as a team we’re in close games. We just need to get a couple hits here and there.”
The starting rotation — and particularly its three youngest members — have been the the biggest bright spot so far for the Marlins (3-9) in 2019 and Richards’ growth has been maybe the most promising development. The 25-year-old, who was plucked out of an independent league in 2016, made his third start of the season Wednesday and erased a shaky start for his best outing of the season.
Richards went six scoreless innings, striking out seven and allowing just one hit. He walked five batters, but four of those came in the first two innings. He left Miami with a 1-0 lead when he departed in the seventh only to watch relief pitcher Drew Steckenrider give up two solo home runs in the bottom of the eighth and send the Marlins to their seventh loss in eight games.
“That one for sure,” manager Don Mattingly said, “is another that’s tough to swallow.”
Miami had its chances early, although they washed away late.
Richards and Reds starting pitcher Tyler Mahle traded laborious innings for the first hour of the game. Mahle started the game by walking two in the top of the first, then Richards walked two and loaded the bases in the bottom of the frame. In the second, Mahle walked two more and loaded the bases, then Richards walked two more before escaping unscathed.
In the third, both settled down, but not until after Mahle allowed a solo homer to utility man Neil Walker. The starting pitcher otherwise cruised through the rest of his five innings, setting down in order the last eight he faced. He finished with seven strikeouts.
Richards was even better. The second-year starter also cruised after the opening two frames, retiring the final 13 he faced in order to lower his ERA to 2.00.
“I wouldn’t say that’s my best outing there because my fastball, the first two innings — the first three innings — like I said earlier, that can’t really happen,” Richards said. “My defense saved me.”
Like usual, Richards dominated with his changeup. The righty fired 48 of them and got 12 swinging strikes with it. The difference Tuesday was the life on his fastball. He threw 47 four-seam fastballs and 23 were balls, but he also forced Cincinnati (3-8) into eight swinging strikes with his No. 2 pitch. Five of his strikeouts came with the changeup and the other two off his fastball.
Starting pitching has been one strength for the Marlins so far this season and the bullpen has been another. On Wednesday, the relievers couldn’t hold up. Relief pitcher Adam Conley tossed a 1-2-3 inning, but Steckenrider (0-2) brought the crowd of 11,375 at GABP to life by surrendering two homers.
Miami’s mediocre offense couldn’t do anything against Reds’ bullpen of Jared Hughes, Amir Garrett and Raisel Iglesias. Hughes tossed 1 2/3 scoreless and Garrett threw (1-0) another 1 1/3 to get the ball to Iglesias, who notched his first save of the year.
“Tomorrow’s a new day,” Steckenrider said. “We’ll just try to think about this one for a little bit tonight and try to figure out what we need to do tomorrow, what I need to do differently moving forward.”