Miami Marlins’ Zac Gallen ready for MLB debut
As good as he was in his MLB debut against the St. Louis Cardinals last Thursday, Zac Gallen knows he was far from his best. The starting pitcher didn’t have his typical command of his fastball, which forced him to throw his cutter more than any other pitch and split his five-pitch mix even more evenly than is typical for the Miami Marlins’ latest rookie starter.
Even in a 7-5 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, Gallen felt better. His fastball command was back and so was his control of all five of his pitches.
For the first time in his extremely brief Major League career, Gallen had his full arsenal in play and put it all on display for a mostly dominant outing at Marlins Park.
“I felt I commanded the fastball a lot better compared to St. Louis,” Gallen said. “I think that helped me out.”
If Gallen is to become a top-line starter for Miami, it won’t be because of an overpowering fastball or even any one signature pitch. Gallen gets by with a four-seam fastball averaging only about 93 mph because he has three or four secondary pitches he can throw comfortably. In his debut against the Cardinals, Gallen threw four of his pitches at least 15 percent of the time, according to Statcast, although his sliders were registered as curveballs. In his home debut for the Marlins (30-48) on Wednesday, Gallen threw each those same four pitches — four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball — at least five times to shut out the Nationals (39-40) for his first five innings.
During his most dominant stretch Wednesday, Gallen mixed his pitches even more evenly. The starting pitcher went through the Washington’s lineup for a second time in the third, fourth and fifth innings, using 42 pitches and throwing all four of his pitches at least four times. The final count: 24 four-seam fastballs, 10 cutters, four changeups and nine breaking balls — eight curveballs and one slider. He struck out six batters the second time through and at least once used each of his five pitches to put away hitters.
“It doesn’t tie your hands at all,” catcher Bryan Holaday said Wednesday. “You can go with any one of his pitches because they’re all plus pitches and it definitely makes it more fun back there to catch it and you don’t have to stick to one way to get an out.”
Gallen started his second turn through the order with one out in the top of the third. He walked Trea Turner and then locked in.
His first strikeout came against Adam Eaton. Gallen used two pitches in the four-pitch at-bat and set the outfielder down with a cutter beneath the strike zone.
In the fourth, he struck out the side and used a different pitch as the final one each time. He set down Juan Soto with a cutter down and away. He put away slugger Matt Adams with a curveball also beneath the zone. Gallen finished striking out the side by throwing only one of two sliders he used all game, getting Victor Robles to chase a pitch in the dirt.
An inning later, he got second baseman Brian Dozier to swing and miss on a pitch above the zone, then froze Patrick Corbin with a fastball at the bottom of the zone to set a new career high with eight strikeouts.
“He’s got the slider and the curveball and they’re both really good pitches,” Holaday said. “The slider’s got a ton of action on it and it’s a real sharp breaker, and that’s why you’re going to see a lot of swings and misses out of the zone.”
Seven of the Nationals’ nine hitters saw at least three different pitches the second time they faced Gallen and the only two who didn’t — Eaton and Anthony Rendon — had at-bats last fewer than five pitches. Robles even saw all five of Gallen’s pitches in his seven-pitch strikeout.
He got two strikeouts with fastballs up in the zone and another with a fastball down. He got both his strikeouts with his breaking ball on pitches beneath the zone. Four of Gallen’s eight strikeouts — including two with his cutter — came on pitches outside the zone. On four others — including one with the cutter — the rookie hit edges or came close.
Although Washington tagged Gallen with three earned runs in the sixth inning, Gallen has the makings of a pitcher who can go deep in games.
“He’s got enough weapons,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s got multiple pitches and he can do some things, so he’s able to go up, he’s got a curveball, he’s got the cutter, the slider, he uses his changeup, he can go to both sides. ... You see a multiple-pitch, a starter mix that can give guys different looks, so you don’t have to get a guy out one way. That’s going to help him be able to navigate lineups and lefties and righties.”