All of a sudden, the Marlins can pitch.
Caleb Smith kept the Conga line moving on Sunday with another superb outing, as the Marlins captured their second series in a row with a 3-0 victory over the Rockies.
Smith turned in seven scoreless innings to record his first major-league victory, one in which he held Colorado to a pair of singles while striking out nine. It was the seventh consecutive game in which the Marlins’ starter gave up two runs or fewer.
“It feels amazing,” Smith said. “I can’t put it into words.”
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Amazing also describes Smith’s sudden transformation.
In his first four Marlins covering <AF>15<TH>2/3 innings, Smith walked 15 batters while allowing 16 hits. In his past two starts since, he has gone 13 innings, struck out 19, walked one, and given up four hits.
“Confidence,” Smith said.
Manager Don Mattingly said Smith was pounding the strike zone in his bullpen sessions but not doing so in games. The coaching staff convinced Smith to trust his talent for getting batters to swing and miss.
“What we were seeing was he’d go into his bullpens and throw strikes all day long, throw the ball right where he wanted it,” Mattingly said. “So we knew something was going on between the bullpens and the games.”
Smith got the message.
“Everything just started clicking,” he said. “I was beating myself the first few starts. I changed it up and let them try to beat me. It’s like night and day.”
With veterans Wei-Yin Chen returning to the mound on Saturday and Dan Straily set to make his first start Monday, the outlook for the Marlins’ oft-maligned rotation suddenly looks brighter.
Not surprisingly, the improvement in pitching for the Marlins is producing wins. The Marlins have now won four of their past five games despite receiving little in the way of scoring production.
“We have the potential to do this,” said closer Brad Ziegler, who notched his third save on Sunday with an easy ninth. “For a week we’ve done it. It starts on the mound, when you get good starting pitching, that gives you a chance to win every game.”
The Rockies, who led the National League in runs scored last season, managed to score just two runs in the series. The Marlins held the Rockies to one or zero runs in all three games of the series, the first time they’ve done that since the 2015 season.
Miguel Rojas, never known for his power, hit his fourth home run, a solo shot off Rockies starter Chad Bettis, and Lewis Brinson drove in another run with an opposite-field single. Starlin Castro’s RBI sacrifice fly in the ninth rounded out the scoring.
Rojas has hit one fewer home run than former Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton has for the Yankees, and the shots have come off Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrietta, Zack Wheeler and Bettis.
Rojas said the unexpected pop stems from playing regularly.
“I’m just happy to have the opportunity to play everyday,” Rojas said. “When you get more at bats, it gives you more freedom to pick your spots and put good swings on the ball.”
Justin Bour remained out of the lineup for a second consecutive game because of back spasms. Bour is day-to-day. J.T. Realmuto started at first base for the first time this season.