PITTSBURGH They’ve slipped in the standings during a difficult August.
But the Marlins might not still be afloat in the National League playoff race without their most experienced starting pitcher.
Despite not earning the victory on Friday night, Tom Koehler delivered another quality start in a 6-5 win over the Pirates that the Marlins needed to avoid matching their longest losing streak of the season.
“It didn’t matter how it got done,” Koehler said. “We had a lot of chances to fold [Friday night], and we didn’t. It speaks to the guys that are in this clubhouse. We’re not happy with the way some things have gone, but there’s a lot of baseball left and if we win games like this, it reaffirms what we believe in.”
Koehler (9-8) tossed six innings, allowing two runs and zero walks while striking out two.
He is 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA over his past six starts since July 21.
That stretch began a day after Wei-Yin Chen made his last start before eventually landing on the disabled list with a left elbow strain.
The Marlins have since placed Adam Conley on the disabled list, moved David Phelps from the back end of the bullpen to the rotation, traded for Andrew Cashner and continued to search for a consistent fifth starter option.
Even ace Jose Fernandez has struggled, losing three of his past four starts.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly said he expected someone would have stepped up even if Koehler had not, but acknowledged the importance of his improved stretch coinciding with injuries to key starters.
“Tom’s been an important guy for us,” Mattingly said. “We’ve lost Chen and Conley, and we’ve needed quality outings from other guys. Tom has stepped up in a big way.”
Koehler’s turnaround came following his start in St. Louis after the All-Star break in which he gave up four runs and lasted only four innings.
At that point, Koehler’s numbers had slipped to 6-8 with a 4.68 ERA for the season. He has since lowered his ERA to 3.82.
On Friday night, Koehler gave up the Marlins’ first lead in the fourth inning when David Freese hit a two-run homer to put the Pirates in front 2-1.
Unlike some of his outings prior to the All-Star break, Koehler did not let the damage worsen, retiring the next batter, Jung Ho Kang, on a groundout to end the inning.
After the Marlins tied the game, Koehler kept Freese from causing further damage the next time he came up in the sixth by inducing him to fly out to left field with runners at the corners and two outs.
Koehler said he worked with pitching coach Juan Nieves in July on some minor mechanical adjustments and felt like he needed to get back to basics.
It’s been paying off for Koehler, who is entering the stretch run of his fifth major-league season and is one win from a third consecutive 10-or-more-win campaign.
DÉJÀ VU FOR YELICH
Christian Yelich hit his first career homer at PNC Park on Aug. 8, 2013, off Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole.
Yelich sent a ball over the left-field wall Friday night once again off Cole for a home run that completed the first of two comebacks the Marlins needed to beat the Pirates. Yelich was one of three Marlins along with Miguel Rojas and J.T. Realmuto who had three hits in the game, including a home run.
Yelich, who was hitting a career-high .317 with career highs in home runs (14), doubles (33) and RBI (71) entering Saturday’s game, has thrived at PNC Park, hitting safely in all 10 career games there entering Saturday with four homers and eight RBI.
“It was kind of in the same spot as the first one,” Yelich said. “I was just trying to put it a good swing on it and fortunately it carried out.”
Mattingly said A.J. Ramos responded well following his simulated pitching session Friday and is on schedule to come off the disabled list Sunday. It’s unclear if the Marlins would immediately give Ramos back the closing duties.
Fernando Rodney locked up his fifth save in as many tries as a Marlin on Friday, albeit with some difficulty. Rodney, who has not blown a save this season in 22 chances overall while pitching in the ninth inning, walked Jordy Mercer to lead off the ninth and gave up a single to John Jaso.
Two batters later, the Marlins intentionally walked the bases loaded to set up Rodney against Andrew McCutchen. Rodney won the battle by inducing McCutchen to ground into a game-ending double play.
▪ Sunday: Marlins RHP Jose Urena (1-4, 6.80 ERA) at Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Ryan Vogelsong (2-2, 3.20), 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
▪ Monday: Off.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.