Miami Marlins

The Marlins’ two best young hitters combined to give Miami its first walk-off of the year

They screamed out of the dugout as Yadiel Rivera cruised into home. For the first time in 2019, the Miami Marlins’ dugout could empty to celebrate a walk-off win and they all chased down their hero right around second base.

Brian Anderson stopped right about there after the San Diego Padres didn’t even bother to try to track down the double he had just ripped down the line. The opportunity presented itself perfectly for the Marlins’ two most productive hitters, both in their second full seasons, to deliver Miami its first walk-off win of the season and they stepped to the challenge. First, Garrett Cooper smacked a one-out single. Anderson followed with his double down the line after Rivera pinch ran for Cooper. The Marlins celebrated a 4-3 win in Miami, sparked by two of the few potential long-term fixtures in their lineup

“That was awesome. That’s a first for me,” Anderson said. “Today was a good game. It was a hard-fought game, so being able to come out on top there and finally put one up for our pitchers right there was awesome.”

They have become a group the Marlins (36-58) trust in the heart of their order. Cooper is the oft-injured slugger finally healthy and producing as their typical No. 3 hitter. Anderson is already in many ways the face of Miami’s franchise after finishing fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2018. On Thursday, they combined to go 4 for 9 with a walk and two doubles, and fueled one of the most thrilling wins Marlins Park has seen this year.

Miami was locked in a stalemate with the Padres (46-49) for the final six innings after relief pitcher Tayron Guerrero coughed up a two-out rally in the sixth to let the Marlins’ early lead slip away. The two bullpen traded scoreless innings until the ninth set up perfectly for what was left of the crowd of 21,149 — inflated heavily by summer camps in attendance — to see a walk-off and series win.

Utilityman Neil Walker started the inning by striking out against relief pitcher Trey Wingenter, so Cooper had to be rally-starter. The 28-year-old smacked a single right field and promptly exited for a pinch-runner. Manager Don Mattingly quickly called for a hit and run, and Rivera turned it into a stolen base on a pitch in the dirt. Anderson waited out an inside slider from Wingenter and pulled it past third base.

Anderson finished 2 for 5 and is now batting .270 with a .549 slugging percentage and .907 on-base-plus-slugging percentage since the start of June. He is once again the sort of player he was as a rookie.

Cooper is the revelation. The right-handed hitter had never played more 14 games in a season before this one. After going 2 for 4 with a walk Thursday, Cooper is batting .313 with a .901 OPS for the entire season.

“Since Coop came back from being hurt, he’s been unbelievable,” said Anderson, 26. “He’s constantly on base. I feel like I”m hitting with him on just about every time I get up there. He’s been doing a great job there at the top of the lineup.

“It’s fun to watch him grow and develop.”

If they are the future of the offense on the current roster, Caleb Smith might be the future of the pitching staff. The starting pitcher looked like an All-Star for the first few months of the year before a hip injury nagged at him and sent him to the injured list in June.

Smith still hasn’t quite recaptured his early season form. He has at least leveled off.

For the third consecutive start since returning from the injured list July 6, Smith went at least five innings while striking out at least six and allowing three runs or fewer. His ERA, which steadily climbed from 2.00 to 3.41 in his six starts before landing on the IL, has leveled off right about there and now sits at 3.50 after five strong innings against the Padres.

“It obviously starts with Smitty today,” Mattingly said. “I thought his fastball command was actually better. It didn’t seem like he found the good slider today, but hung in there.”

Smith pitched around trouble often Thursday. He gave up a leadoff double in the second and outfielder Hunter Renfroe ultimately came home to score on a sacrifice fly later in the inning. An inning later, Smith issued a leadoff walk before he escaped with two strikeouts. In the third, he gave up another extra-base hit, a two-out double to outfielder Manuel Margot, but managed to get through another scoreless inning with the help of two strikeouts.

The left-handed pitcher finished his five innings with seven strikeouts, his most in a single game since May. The 27-year-old lived off his fastball, which he threw 69 times for 11 swinging strikes. Five of the starting pitcher’s seven strikeouts came on fastballs up and above the zone. The only glaring flaws were his pitch-count management — he needed 96 pitches to get through five — and his ongoing penchant to give up homers. Fernando Tatis Jr. took him deep in the fifth and the left-handed pitcher is now allowing 1.73 homers per nine innings, which would be among the 10 worst averages in the Majors if he had enough innings to qualify.

His offense and bullpen picked him up. Miami scored a pair of unearned runs in the second inning, then added another on a solo home run by outfielder Harold Ramirez in the fourth. Smith left with a 3-2 lead and the bullpen, anchored by relief pitchers Nick Anderson and Sergio Romo, kept it at 3-3 after Guerrero’s mishap. Anderson, a rookie, struck out five across two innings. Romo (2-0) cruised through a 1-2-3 ninth to give the Marlins their chance at the walk-off against Wingenter (1-3) and San Diego.

“We had a great team win,” Smith said. “Our offense came through late. It was really good and we swung the bats well.”

Martin Prado returns from injury

Martin Prado finally rejoined the Marlins on Thursday for their series finale with the Padres, but not until Miami’s injury carousel took another turn.

Prado, who missed the past month with a hamstring injury, was activated in place of JT Riddle, who now heads to the 10-day injured list with a right forearm strain.

Riddle, a left-handed hitter who plays both shortstop and outfield, didn’t get in the game Wednesday despite the Marlins’ matchup against Chris Paddack, a right-handed starting pitcher, as he dealt with some nagging discomfort. His placement on the IL is retroactive to Tuesday, and Miami doesn’t expect the injury to keep him out too long.

“It’s been the last two or three days,” Mattingly said. “We thought it would just get better after a couple days and he just needs a little bit of a break. That hasn’t happened yet, so we’ll kind of wait and see, but he doesn’t seem to be overly concerned.”

Prado’s return gives the Marlins a more reliable hitter, albeit one who can’t play shortstop and won’t provide a left-handed option.

Prado, who has played first and third base this season, was a frequent starter early in the year before a right hamstring strain sent him to the IL in June. While he was sidelined, slugger Garrett Cooper developed into a fixture at first base, meaning Prado will likely move to a full-time bench role while Cooper and utilityman Neil Walker platoon at first.

“It’s good to have Martin back on the field,” Mattingly said. “[We’ll] be able to use him in a number of different ways: off the bench pinch-hitting, off the bench playing, double switching.”

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