Miami Marlins

A troubling early trend for Pablo Lopez. And Marlins hit rare mark for offensive futility

Marlins pitcher Pablo Lopez ready for the new season

Miami Marlins pitcher Pablo Lopez speaks with the media after the first day of spring training for pitchers and catchers at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 in Jupiter, FL.
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Miami Marlins pitcher Pablo Lopez speaks with the media after the first day of spring training for pitchers and catchers at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 in Jupiter, FL.

The formula has become familiar for the Miami Marlins each time Pablo Lopez has taken the mound for one of his three starts this season. On his first pass through the order, the starting pitcher has mostly carved through opposing lineups, giving his offense a chance to give him some breathing room.

Once the opponents get a second or third look at the right-handed pitcher, though, they’ve started to tee off. It was the case again against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. Lopez began with three 1-2-3 innings before the Reds broke through in the fourth, then blew the game open with a three-run fifth on their way to a 5-0 win in Cincinnati.

“It’s a learning process, knowing lineups, also knowing yourself, the things that you are capable to do,” Lopez said. “Stay within yourself, stick to the plan.”

The Marlins’ loss was their eighth in nine games and left Miami (3-10) swept for the second time already this season. The Reds, who came into the three-game series at Great American Ball Park with just one win, outscored the Marlins, 18-1, across the three games.

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Cincinnati (4-8) got to Lopez (1-2) the same way everyone else has. The 23-year-old starter allowed just one hit in his first turn through the order only to come undone quickly in the fourth. Outfielder Jesse Winker led off with a single and first baseman Joey Votto followed with another. After a long flyout by Yasiel Puig, third baseman Eugenio Suarez drove in the first run with another single to left.

In their second turn through the order, the Reds went 4 for 9 against Lopez. In their third, they went 2 for 2 with a walk before manager Don Mattingly pulled Lopez (1-2) after an RBI single by Votto and a two-run double by Puig, who returned from a two-game suspension in front of 11,192 at GABP.

Through three games in 2019, Lopez is holding opponents 4 of 26 his first time through the order, but batters are 10 for 25 the second time they see Lopez and 5 for 11 the third time. Disappointing finishes are watching away impressive starts and leaving Lopez with days like Thursday, when he allowed seven hits, a walk and four earned runs in just 4 2/3 innings despite striking out five. The righty’s ERA is up to 6.60 even though he’s striking out more than a batter per inning.

Last season, opponents actually posted a worst batting average against Lopez the second time they saw him, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio dipped from 8.50 to 2.00 and hitters’ on-base percentage shot up from .292 to .356.

“A little bit of the same last year. It felt like he rolled through once. The second time it seemed like more trouble and I think it’s just something we’re going to have to get over,” Mattingly said. “He has to be able to continue to use his breaking ball, continue to be able to elevate, and just kind of stay with the quality and stuff after it. But it is something that you’re going to have to pay attention to because it happened a little bit last year and it’s happening now.”

Again, the Marlins didn’t give Lopez much wiggle room, anyway. Miami finished with just five hits — two by slugging third baseman Brian Anderson, who snapped an 0-for-12 slump after getting a day off — even after a left calf contusion knocked pitcher Sonny Gray from his start after just four innings.

Five relief pitchers combined to close out the game for Cincinnati, beginning with Robert Stephenson. The Marlins have had far more success against opposing bullpens than starters, so this was a chance to end a three-game losing streak. Instead, Stephenson (1-0) set down Miami in order to maintain a 1-0 lead. The next time the Marlins came to the plate, they were down 4-0, a fourth straight loss all but inevitable.

In those final five innings, Miami joined rare company for offensive futility. With a second shutout in three games, the Marlins managed just one run in the three-game sweep, marking only the fourth time in franchise history they scored one run or fewer in a three-game series. All three of the previous instances happened in 2013, when Miami scored 513 runs, the fewest in franchise history.

With 149 games to go, the Marlins are on pace to score just 423.7, which would be the fewest since the season expanded to 162 games.

“I’m seeing our guys battle,” Anderson said. “They just keep squaring balls up and it just seems they can’t find a whole right now, and that’s just how baseball goes sometimes. So for us it’s just about maintaining the course, trusting in our ability and just keep getting good pitches to hit, and keep putting our swing on it and eventually they’re going to fall.”

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