Marlins CEO Derek Jeter: We’re trying to build something that’s special
Don Mattingly has seen an inning like the top of the eighth far too many times throughout this Miami Marlins season. He probably even saw similar ones too often Thursday alone, when the Marlins fell to the Washington Nationals, 5-2, for their sixth loss to the Nationals in 10 days.
It started with a double by Jorge Alfaro and then a single by Harold Ramirez. Miami staged a legitimate threat to erase a three-run deficit with no outs against Washington’s infamously combustible bullpen only to watch it fizzle away against two more relief pitchers. None of the next four batters could get a hit and Miguel Rojas lined out to the shortstop to end the inning. Another opportunity wasted in what feels like a season full of them.
“It’s the difference between winning and losing, to be honest with you,” Mattingly said. “You don’t get big hits, they do; you don’t big outs, they do; you lose. It’s pretty much as simple as that. We did have guys out there, which is at least encouraging, but at the end of the day you get your a** kicked again and you go home.”
It has certainly been worse for the Marlins (32-53) this season than it is right now. Through 41 games, Miami was on pace for one of the worst offensive seasons in modern MLB history and well on its way to a season with fewer than 60 wins. In their last 44 games, the Marlins are playing .500 to build a comfortable cushion out of the Major League cellar.
Still, Miami is nearly 20 games out of first place and guaranteed to take the National League’s worst record into the All-Star break. The Marlins still have the least productive offense in the NL by more than 50 runs, and have the worst slugging percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the Majors.
All six of their losses to the Nationals (45-41) in the last two weeks played out in the way which has frustrated Mattingly. In four of the six losses, Miami scored first. In five of the six, the Marlins lost by three runs or fewer.
On Thursday, Miami needed only five pitches to jump ahead of Washington. As the crowd of 27,350 still filtered in for a morning start at Nationals Park, Rojas belted his first home run of the season to give the Marlins an immediate 1-0 lead. The lead grew in the second when JT Riddle singled off Anibal Sanchez, went to second base on a wild pitch, made it to third on an error and finally came home when Rojas hit a line-drive fielder’s choice to center field.
Even these early innings felt like they could have been more for Miami. After the homer in the first, slugger Garrett Cooper and second baseman Starlin Castro each connected for a pair of one-out singles before Sanchez escaped. In the second, pitcher Elieser Hernandez was thrown out at second for the fielder’s choice when a better baserunner would have likely made it to second and kept the rally going.
The Marlins left at least one runner on base in every inning and went 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
“I feel when you have a young club like this you are going to have to battle with a lot of that because guys tend to get a little bit bigger when they have a run in scoring position or big opportunities,” Rojas said. “It’s all about knowing and understanding what the pitcher is trying to do to you, putting yourself in better counts.”
For the last quarter of the season, Washington is the one team to consistently make Miami pay for its myriad flaws. In their last 44 games, the Marlins are 1-9 against the Nationals, which has kept a promising month and a half from being an outright breakthrough for Miami. In their last 14 games, the Marlins are 0-6 against Washington and 7-2 against everyone else.
It starts with the lineup, which is one of the few groups to regularly crack Miami’s pitching staff. On Tuesday, the Nationals erased a 1-0 deficit in the first inning on a two-run homer by Juan Soto in Washington. On Wednesday, the Nationals belted two more home runs to score all three runs in a series-clinching victory.
Washington extended its franchise-record homer streak against Hernandez (1-3) on Thursday. First, catcher Kurt Suzuki belted a solo home run off the pitcher in the second inning to cut the Marlins’ lead to 2-1, giving the Nationals at least one home run in 18 consecutive games. Two innings later, Anthony Rendon crushed another off Hernandez to tie the game at 2-2. An inning after that, Rendon finally gave Washington the lead on a single up the middle to bring home slugger Gerardo Parra.
“I just have to make less mistakes,” Hernandez said through an interpreter.
Even when Miami’s pitching has held up against Washington’s, the Nationals’ has shut down the Marlins. Even though he never exactly settled in, Sanchez (5-6) survived despite five hits and three walks in six innings.
Miami put a runner in scoring in scoring position in three of the starting pitcher’s final four innings, but could never string together multiple baserunners. Sanchez handed the ball off to the bullpen with a 3-2 lead for the final three innings.
Even in the ninth, Miami got one final chance, putting two on against Fernando Rodney with two outs. Once again, nothing materialized. The Marlins couldn’t get a run across and the relief pitcher notched his second save of the season.
“Our record’s not that great, so we’re getting our a** kicked by everybody, basically,” Mattingly said. “This game here is very similar to a lot of our games. We get some guys out there, we score a couple runs, we don’t get a big hit, we don’t get a big out, we pitch OK and we lose.”
This and that
▪ Brian Anderson was out of the lineup for the second straight game Thursday as he recovers from a right elbow contusion he sustained Tuesday while playing the outfield. Typically the Marlins’ starting third baseman, Anderson is still experiencing some pain while throwing, although he can hit fine. He appeared as a pinch-hitter Wednesday.
▪ Smith will officially make his return from the IL on Saturday when the Marlins face the Atlanta Braves. The starting pitcher has missed nearly a month with a hip injury. Miami will use one turn of a six-man rotation going into the break as the Marlins announced starting pitcher Trevor Richards, who was in line to start Saturday, will start Sunday in Atlanta.