Figuring out who the Miami Marlins’ All-Star was going to be this season never seemed like it was going to be an easy task. Even when clarity arrived in the form of Caleb Smith’s dominant start to the season, it quickly vanished, taken away by a hip injury which has now sidelined the starting pitcher for nearly three weeks. In the next couple weeks, Pablo Lopez went down with an injury, then Jorge Alfaro slumped and joined the two starting pitchers on the injured list. Every time someone started to build a case to be the Marlins’ mandatory All-Star, something happened to derail it
It all led to a chance for Trevor Richards, the 25-year-old starting pitcher who went unselected in the 2013 MLB draft after finishing his career at Division II Drury University. His final audition, however, might have ended another improbable bid. The Washington Nationals pounced on Richards for six runs in five innings to snap Miami’s three-game winning streak with a 6-1 win at Marlins Park.
“It definitely was a battle. They worked good counts, and made me throw a couple pitches up and took advantage of those pitches,” Richards said. “They came in with a good approach and I just didn’t execute.”
Richards, who entered Tuesday with an ERA of 3.54 while striking out nearly a batter per inning, struck out only three Nationals and gave up seven hits as his ERA spiked all the way up to 3.94. He labored early against Washington’s potent lineup, then cracked in both the second and third innings to quickly turn Tuesday into a lopsided loss for the Marlins (30-47) in front of 7,327 in Miami, punctuated by both Miguel Rojas and manager Don Mattingly being ejected in the eighth inning after charging out of the dugout to argue with home plate umpire Mike Estabrook.
It all began smoothly enough for Richards. He set down each of the first two batters on two pitches before serving up a one-out single and issuing a one-out walk. The starter finally escaped, but not until after fighting through a 10-pitch at-bat against utilityman Howie Kendrick. The Nationals (38-40) worked Richards’ pitch count all the way up to 27 by the end of the first inning.
“The first got us in trouble a little bit because we really looked like we were going to get out of there in like eight or nine pitches,” Mattingly said.
Richards (3-8) couldn’t handle another turn through the heart of Washington’s order. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer led off the third with a single and the lineup turned back over to the Nationals’ star-laden top half. Outfielder Adam Eaton walked, then Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto each pulled a single into the outfield to give Washington a 2-0 lead. A fielder’s choice by Kendrick stretched the lead to 3-0 and, against Scherzer, this was already too much for Miami to overcome.
The changeup is Richards’ signature pitch and the Nationals built their game plan around preventing him from using it. Washington sat on the wicked pitch, looking for him to leave it up in the zone, so Richards had to adjust and lean on his fastball, which averaged just 90.9 mph. Without his changeup baffling opponents, Richards crashes back to being little more than average.
“They were looking for the changeup and wanted to see it up,” Richards said. “Overall, I was just a little too late on the adjustments.”
Making his second start after breaking his nose while bunting in batting practice, Scherzer (7-5) went eight dominant innings for the Nationals, scattering just five hits along the way. The Cy Young hopeful struck out 10 and gave up only one run in the fourth inning.
By then, the Marlins were already down 6-0. In the top of the fourth, Washington jumped on Richards for three more runs with a homer by Park Vista’s Trea Turner, effectively ending both Miami’s chance at a fourth straight win and, perhaps, Richards’ case as a 2019 All-Star.
“For me, it’s been tough because I would like us to play a little bit better at home,” Rojas said. “The fans defend our ballpark.”
Starting pitcher Caleb Smith to get one more rehab start
Caleb Smith’s first rehab start with Double A Jacksonville on Monday was promising, but the Marlins are preaching patience in the starting pitcher’s return from the injured list. Smith met with Mattingly, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and president of baseball operations Michael Hill on Tuesday, and the group decided the left-handed pitcher will get one more rehab start before he is reinstated from the IL.
“We met with Caleb today — Donnie, Stott and I — just talked about doing what’s best for him, best the club,” Hill said. “When we get him back, we want him with no restrictions, so we felt like we’d give him one more outing with Double A, give him the opportunity to go deeper and build up his pitch count, so that when we do indeed reinstate him that there will be no restrictions. He’ll be able to go out there and compete in whatever fashion he needs to be successful.”
Smith gave up only two hits and struck out 11 for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, but both of the hits were solo home runs and he left the game after giving up a pair of earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings. The starter threw only 71 pitches as fatigue set in near the end of the start, so Miami wants him to get another opportunity to build up his conditioning.
The Marlins don’t yet know where Smith will make his next rehab start, but they will target 90 pitches for the lefty so he’ll be ready to go his usual length once he rejoins the team next week.
This and that
▪ Martin Prado might not be far behind utilityman Neil Walker in rejoining Miami. the corner infielder hit in a cage at Marlins Park on Tuesday and threw in a cage, although he has not yet began running. Prado has been on the IL since June 14 with a hamstring injury.
▪ Jorge Alfaro, who is on the seven-day concussion IL, is continuing his activity progression. Miami placed the catcher on the IL on Friday. Jon Berti, who primarily contributed at second and third base for the Marlins before going on the IL with an oblique strain last month, is also continuing his progression in Jupiter.
▪ Chad Wallach is also dealing with concussion symptoms and was shifted to the 60-day IL on Friday. The catcher, who first went on the IL last month, is continuing baseball activity.
▪ Relief pitcher Drew Steckenrider, who has been on the IL since May with a shoulder injury, is continuing his throwing program. Pablo Lopez has not yet begun to throw, but is in therapy to deal with a shoulder strain that landed him on the IL on Thursday. Fellow starting pitcher Jose Urena, who went on the 60-day IL retroactive to June 9 with a herniated disc, is still in complete rest.