Midseason Superlatives: Some shine, struggle in Marlins’ first half
Some extra notes, news and takeaways from the Miami Marlins’ six-game homestand, which included a three-game series loss to the New York Mets and a three-game series win against the San Diego Padres:
Starlin Castro’s trade value: Starlin Castro’s home run to break up Chris Paddack’s no-hitter Wednesday is the perfect summation of why he might be valuable for a contender. The second baseman struck out in his first two at-bats against the starting pitcher before he led off the eighth inning for the Marlins. He knew to look for a fastball and he jumped on the rookie’s pitch, launching a solo home run to left to end the no-hit bid and put Miami (36-58) on the board.
“We saw a lot of fastballs,” Castro said Wednesday. “We got ready.”
Although he finished the six-game homestand by going 0 for 4 in a 4-3 win against the Padres, Castro had an 11-game hitting streak going in, and he batted .426 with two doubles, two triples and two home runs in those first 11 games of July. He finished the homestand 9 for 26 with four two-hit games. Playing in the final year of his contract, the four-time All-Star is starting to look like his typical self just in time for the July 31 trade deadline.
Garrett Cooper, power hitter: Garrett Cooper’s home runs this season have come in miniature binges. When he hit his first career home run in May, he hit his second the next day. When he hit his fourth career home run in June, he hit his fifth the next game.
The latest binge, which stretched mostly across the beginning of the Marlins’ homestand, is his most encouraging yet. The slugger hit one home run in Miami’s final game before the All-Star break July 7, then started the second half with three more homers in four games. At 6-6 and 230 pounds, Cooper has the physical profile to be an extra-base threat and he is happy with the adjustments he’s making in his first mostly healthy season.
“I’ve always felt like it’s a guys job at three, four, five to be driving in all those runs,” Cooper said Wednesday. “A corner outfielder, infielder, you better put some homers or doubles up on the board. That’s just part of baseball.”
Jordan Yamamoto: Make it six consecutive solid starts for Jordan Yamamoto to start his MLB career. The starting pitcher fired another five strong innings Tuesday to open the Marlins’ series against San Diego (46-50), and he is quietly pushing his way to the fringes of the National League Rookie of the Year conversation — and he got out Rookie of the Year hopeful Fernando Tatis Jr. all three times they faced each other.
Making his first start in 11 days because of the All-Star break, Yamamoto had to shake off some rust, and he gave up three runs in the second inning, but he regrouped to make it through five after giving up just two earned runs on four hits and two walks with four strikeouts. The starter’s ERA jumped to 1.59.
Adam Conley: Adam Conley still can’t figure out what’s going wrong for him this season and his days in Miami might be numbered.
The relief pitcher was expected to be one of the Marlins’ most reliable late-inning lefties after posting a respectable 4.09 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings in 2018. He has been anything but and, after a pair of single-inning outings allowing multiple runs on the homestand, Conley’s ERA is up to 7.96. Miami has enough space in its bullpen to let Conley try to turn it around for now, but once fellow relief pitcher Austin Brice returns from a right forearm flexor strain, Conley might be out of chances unless he can turn his season around. The signs aren’t promising: the whiff rate on his changeup, which is his most frequently used off-speed pitch, is down to 20.0 percent from 43.3 in 2018.
“His change has not been as good this year,” manager Don Mattingly said Wednesday. “I’m not quite sure why.”
Austin Brice: Speaking of Brice, his injury is a major bummer for one of the best stories of this Marlins season. The right-handed pitcher had never had an ERA better than 4.96 in parts of three previous seasons. This year, Brice had already thrown a career high 38 1/3 innings with a team-leading 1.88 ERA when a forearm flexor strain sent him to the injured list.
If the Miami trades away pitcher Sergio Romo by July 31, Brice should be in line to get a shot as Miami’s closer. His health, however, could cause him to miss out on the opportunity.
Past mistakes: There have been plenty of opportunities to lament the Marlins’ mistakes of the past throughout the 2019 season. Christian Yelich is on his way to a second straight MVP, leading the National League in home runs and stolen bases. Luis Castillo has transformed into a Cy Young Award contender in his third major-league season, ranking third in the NL in ERA.
On Wednesday, another one of those mistakes hit close to home. Paddack, a Rookie of the Year contender and former Miami prospect, made his Marlins Park debut and took a no-hitter into the eighth inning to beat the team that drafted him, then traded him away for relief pitcher Fernando Rodney. It was just another reminder of what this last-place team could possibly be had previous management been smarter.
“I just kind of had a chip on my shoulder coming into the game,” Paddack said. “This is the team that drafted me. This is kind of where it all started for me, being a professional athlete. The Marlins were the first team to kind of give me the opportunity, and it’s kind of crazy to see how it all plays out now.”