Miami Marlins

Marlins pitcher Robert Dugger has ups and downs in his first four starts in the majors

Miami Marlins’ Robert Dugger, top, pitches to Milwaukee Brewers’ Eric Thames during the first inning of a baseball game, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Miami.
Miami Marlins’ Robert Dugger, top, pitches to Milwaukee Brewers’ Eric Thames during the first inning of a baseball game, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Miami. AP

After four major-league starts, the Marlins’ Robert Dugger clearly has not become jaded.

“It’s a lot of fun, for sure,” the right-hander said about being in the bigs. “It still doesn’t feel real. When I show up to a new ballpark on the road, I’m like, ‘Wow. I only played [here] on a video game or something.’ I’ve always dreamed of just even going to the ballpark, but now I’m playing in it.

“So, yeah, it’s very surreal.”

Dugger, 24, made those comments in the Miami clubhouse at Oracle Park on Friday afternoon before the Marlins faced the Giants that night.

He is scheduled to make his fifth start Saturday evening against San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner.

The Texas Tech alum made his major-league debut as the 26th man in a doubleheader against the Mets in New York. He gave up six earned runs, five hits and four walks in five innings and took the loss in a 6-2 decision.

The Marlins send him back to Triple A New Orleans. He returned to the big leagues to hold the Reds to three hits and no earned runs in a seven-inning start Aug. 29. Since then, Dugger has had one good start (two earned runs in six innings at Pittsburgh on Sept. 4) and one bad one (four hits and four walks in three innings against the Brewers on Monday).

Dugger (0-2, 4.29 ERA) believes his success depends on his command of his pitches.

“If I can throw my pitches for strikes,” Dugger said, “my stuff plays here. I get early outs and get swings and misses. That’s really what’s it all about, just being efficient and throwing strikes.”

Miami manager Don Mattingly likes Dugger’s mental approach to the game.

“He’s got a pretty good mind-set, honestly,” Mattingly said. “He’s a guy that’s mature from the standpoint of understanding what we’re trying to do game plan-wise [and] how we need him to progress. Pretty good student of all that, so that really is a leg up on a lot of guys that we get that are young and don’t quite know how to make that step.”

Dugger’s next step comes against Bumgarner, the left-hander who not only has thrived on the mound for a decade but also acquits himself quite well at the plate; Bumgarner has 18 career home runs.

Dugger said Bumgarner is “nothing to fool around with at the plate. He can be a problem at the plate, so I’ve got to make sure I make pitches against him, too.”

Growing up in the Houston suburb of Tomball, Dugger admired former Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt. Dugger, who’s listed at 6-2, 180 pounds, also liked longtime Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum, who had a similar build to Dugger’s.

Mattingly seems similarities between Dugger and former A’s, Braves and Giants right-hander Tim Hudson.

“He’s got a little bit of that quick delivery in there,” Mattingly said. “I obviously don’t want to throw him in Huddy’s category yet.”

Dugger is still looking to record his first major-league victory, and his numbers in the minors this season — 6-6 with a 3.31 ERA for Double A Jacksonville and 2-4, 7.59 with New Orleans — weren’t overwhelming.

What will he take from his 2019 experiences that could make him a bona fide big-league starter in, say, two or three years?

“Baseball’s a game of failure,” Dugger said, “and so I’m just going to take all my failures and learn from those times and be better from it.”

THIS AND THAT

This series is the Marlins’ last this season against a team out of the NL wild-card race. Their final four series are at Arizona (four games out of the second spot as of early Friday evening), against Washington (holding the top spot), at New York (2.5 games out of the second spot) and at Philadelphia (also 2.5 games out of the second spot).

The Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings, the Marlins’ Class A affiliate, trail the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs 2-0 in games in the best-of-5 Midwest League championship series. Game 3 is set for Clinton on Saturday night. The LumberKings would host Game 4 (Sunday) and Game 5 (Monday), if necessary.

The Marlins swept a three-game series in San Francisco three times in the previous eight seasons: 2011, 2012 and 2017.

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