WASHINGTON -- One scout who watched the Marlins this spring filed this report back to his club: “(Hunter) Cervenka, by hook or crook, will be the first left-hander back to the big leagues.”
The scout detected then what everyone saw Monday in the the Marlins’ season-opener. With no lefty in their bullpen, they opened themselves to second-guessing when Adam Lind tore into a David Phelps fastball for a decisive two-run homer in the Nationals’ 4-2 victory.
“It does present a problem,” said the major league scout, who spoke only on condition he not be named.
The Marlins have eight relievers in their bullpen. All, including Phelps, are right-handers.
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They have no late-inning lefty specialist, someone they could have brought in to match up against Lind when Nationals manager Dusty Baker, down by a run, sent him to the plate to pinch-hit in the seventh with a man aboard.
Lind hammers right-handers, and Phelps is no exception. In 14 previous career at bats against Phelps, Lind had gone 5 for 14 with two doubles and a pair of homers.
Did the Marlins err in not giving at least one bullpen spot to a southpaw, someone like Cervenka, a somewhat erratic lefty the Marlins sent to Triple A New Orleans to start the season?
It’s a matter of opinion.
Another big-league scout who tracks the Marlins said they made the right decision in the way they structured their bullpen, especially given the uncertainty surrounding the team’s five-man starting rotation.
“You build your bullpen around your strengths and, right now, I consider the Marlins’ weakness to be the length they’re going to get from their starters,” he said. “Therefore, it makes the most sense to have seven or eight bodies capable of giving you more than one out.”
Phelps, Kyle Barraclough and Junichi Tazawa have had success in the past facing left-handed hitters.
“Maybe not as much as a Randy Choate,” said the scout, referring to the former lefty specialist who once played for the Marlins. “But having seven guys in your bullpen that can get you three outs is sometimes more important than having one lefty to get one left-hander for one out once a series.”
The same scout added that the pitch Phelps threw to Lind wasn’t a bad one.
“(Catcher J.T.) Realmuto’s glove was moving down and away,” the scout said of the fateful pitch thrown by Phelps. “It tells me that Adam Lind just did a good piece of hitting right there.”
Still, a bullpen without a southpaw poses issues. Baker, knowing that the Marlins had no lefty to diffuse Lind, didn’t have to think twice about sending him in to hit.
“That’s a huge advantage,” the first scout said. “It definitely gives the other team’s manager one less thing to consider. It’s a deeper problem in that regard.”
Following Monday’s defeat, Marlins manager Don Mattingly acknowledged that having a lefty or two in his pen would be nice.
“Obviously, you’d like to be set up if you had a couple of [lefties], honestly,” Mattingly said. “But we’re just not set up like that. And I’ve seen other teams do without it. It’s going to be what we’re going to have to deal with, and just figure out how we’re going to get through those parts of the lineup.”
Monday was just one game. There are 161 more left. Only time will tell whether the Marlins can succeed without a southpaw reliever, or whether they’ll have to include one in their bullpen, someone like Cervenka.
“One game,” the second scout said. “I don’t think it’s a reason to panic.”
Wednesday -- Marlins RHP Dan Straily (14-8, 3.76 in 2016) at Washington Nationals RHP Tanner Roark (16-10, 2.83 in ’16), 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park.
Thursday -- Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (9-13, 4.33 in ’16) at Washington Nationals LHP Gio Gonalez (11-11, 4.57 in ’16), 4:05 p.m., Nationals Park.