Caleb Smith still isn’t quite sure what he did to be tagged with a balk call in the midst of a fifth-inning meltdown against the Atlanta Braves on Friday. Julio Teheran was in the batter’s box with runners on first and second, and stepped out of the box to call timeout. Smith turned around, wiggled his left shoulder and then stared back at John Bacon in disbelief. The home plate umpire had called the starting pitcher for a balk. Two batters moved into scoring position with no outs, and the Miami Marlins’ unraveling was underway.
“That changed the entire game,” Smith said.
Manager Don Mattingly came out to argue the phantom balk call and got ejected. The Braves quickly scored one run on a sacrifice fly and Smith couldn’t limit the damage. By the end of the inning, Atlanta had sent 10 batters to the plate, connected for six singles and a home run, and pushed a one-run lead up to six on the way to an 8-4 win at Marlins Park.
“It was a bad call. I didn’t balk,” Smith said. “I asked him what I did and he said I moved my shoulder, and as far as I know when I’m not set, I can move my shoulder as much as I want, so I don’t know what game he was watching.”
The Braves scored five runs in the frame. Smith, who entered Friday with a 3.36 ERA, lasted only 4 2/3 innings in Miami. He gave up a season-worst six earned runs and a season-worst 10 hits — four more hits than he has given up in any other game this season. The Braves tagged him for a pair of home runs, the 19th and 20th he has given up this year. His ERA climbed to 3.71.
One inning gave the left-handed pitcher his worst outing of the year and erased the Marlins’ chances at a comeback win in front of 8,057.
Until the fifth inning, Smith matched Teheran. Miami (43-72) collected four hits in the first four innings against the starting pitcher. Atlanta (69-49) had three against Smith. The only difference was a solo home run by second baseman Ozzie Albies, the second batter of the game.
The top of the fifth began with a single to left field by catcher Tyler Flowers, the No. 7 hitter, and then another by outfielder Ender Inciarte, batting eighth. Smith (7-6) stared down Teheran (7-7) and then erupted at the controversial call. Bench coach Brian Schneider screamed at the ump from the dugout at Mattingly charged on to the field to argue his starter’s case.
The manager got ejected. Smith couldn’t regroup.
“I’m not sure what their interpretation was,” Mattingly said. “I don’t really know what they called, honestly. I’m arguing basically the hitter backed out first, started to back out and then I saw the umpire’s hands go up.”
Instead of laying down a sacrifice bunt, Teheran could swing away with two runners in scoring position. He lifted a sacrifice fly out to right field and Brian Anderson’s throw was just enough off line for Flowers to sneak past catcher Jorge Alfaro’s tag. With one out, a run was already in.
The biggest blow came a batter later from Acuna. On the first pitch of the at-bat, the outfielder cranked a line-drive homer to left-center field and the Braves’ lead stretched to 4-0. Two more singles by Albies and Freddie Freeman kept the rally going, and two more singles by slugger Adam Duvall and utility player Charlie Culberson pushed the lead to 6-0.
Smith left the game after all nine batters went to the plate. His worst start of the season was over.
“I’m sure the league will look at it, but if that’s a balk there’s probably a balk every day in basically every game,” Mattingly said, “so we’ll see what they say.”
Tyler Kinley returns to Marlins after 24-hour option
Tyler Kinley has had a busy 24 hours.
The relief pitcher thought he was headed back to Triple A New Orleans on Thursday. He had his bags packed and was getting ready to fly out of South Florida after being optionted to make room for fellow relief pitcher Austin Brice when the Marlins let him know to stick around. Relief pitcher Tayron Guerrero was heading to the injured list and Miami had room for Kinley to stick around on the active roster.
“Fortunately, I hadn’t traveled yet,” Kinley said. “The timing was lucky.”
Kinley has been jerked back and forth from the minors to the Majors all season, and has now been part of three roster moves already in August. The Marlins recalled him from the New Orleans Baby Cakes on Aug. 1 following a rash of trades a day earlier, but his most recent stay was originally only going to last a little more than a week. When Brice returned from the IL on Thursday, Miami optioned Kinley back to the Baby Cakes before calling him back up Friday when Guerrero went on the IL with a torn fingernail on his right middle finger.
Guerrero’s trip to the IL is his second this summer. He spent about three weeks on the IL from the middle of June until the middle of July, and posted a 10.38 ERA in 10 appearances since returning from the injury. The right-handed pitcher has a 5.67 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 33 walks in 39 2/3 innings this year.
Kinley has a 4.34 ERA in 29 innings this season. The righty hasn’t allowed a run in four appearances since returning to the Majors earlier this month.