The Miami Marlins (8-9) faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles early last season with the COVID-19 outbreak. The virus ripped through the team, sidelining 18 players from the Opening Day roster and decimating the bullpen. To their credit, though, the Marlins bounced back and performed admirably on their way to the team’s first postseason berth in 17 years.
Although the circumstances are far different this year, Miami’s depth faces another challenge in the opening month of the season. Injuries and inconsistencies have hurt the club here early on, but the team has remained competitive, winning seven of their last 10 games.
After a tough one Tuesday, Miami bounced back Wednesday with a 3-0 win over the Orioles. Trevor Rogers pitched a gem, going a career-high 7.0 innings and racking up eight strikeouts. New Marlins catcher Sandy León afforded an offensive lift as well.
Marlins’ Big-Time Battery
Rogers provided Marlins manager Don Mattingly with the longest outing of the season from a starter. Seemingly overlooked amid the other rookies on the roster, Rogers continues to make a case for accolades. He mowed down the Orioles Wednesday and limited walks to a season low (1).
His 31 strikeouts this season lead all left-handed starters in MLB. And his 70 strikeouts through hist first 11 starts are most in Marlins history for a left-handed starter.
“He’s been good,” Mattingly said of the 23-year-old. He noted Rogers located his fastball well and used his off-speed just enough to keep Baltimore hitters off balance. Mattingly complimented Rogers’ maturity and work ethic.
To his credit, Rogers went on to say he’s “trying to prove that I belong here.” At this point, there’s little question in that regard.
León, meanwhile, provided a spark in his first game for the Fish. He registered hits in his first two at-bats and scored Miami’s first run after a head’s up baserunning play. If León, a light-hitting, defensive-minded catcher who’s only hit over .200 twice in his nine-year MLB career, can provide any sort of offensive consistency, that’ll be a plus for the Marlins.
Mattingly spoke highly of León after the game, noting he’s been with the club for most of the season and has a “good feel for our staff.” Mattingly anticipates using both León and Chad Wallach regularly.
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) April 21, 2021
Marlins Lack of Depth on Display
After falling behind 5-1, the Marlins managed to make Tuesday’s tilt interesting despite being shorthanded. But missing a bench player ultimately came back to bite Miami as Mattingly sent starting pitcher Pablo Lopez to pinch hit down two runs in the bottom of the ninth. That AB finished as expected, a three-pitch strikeout.
Miami’s four-man bench stands as a result of a terrible decision by the New York Mets to start a game that clearly would not be finished. On Sunday April 11th, the Mets opted to play amid heavy skies and drizzling rain. Nine pitches into the contest, that drizzle turned in to a downpour and play was suspended for the day. The teams marked August 31st for resumption as part of split doubleheader.
This forced Miami’s hand. They recalled Daniel Castano and optioned Lewis Brinson to the alternate site. That burned Brinson’s final minor league option and left the Marlins a man down on the bench. Although they navigated that deficiency well over the last two series, not having the bench at full-strength cost the club after a questionable double-switch and Alfaro’s injury Tuesday.
“Playing short just changes the decisions you make,” Mattingly said after the 7-5 loss. “It’s always better to have that extra guy, but there’s times you have to do what you have to do. You want to take care of your pitching. You want to make sure those guys are protected out in the bullpen, not overused. This is a situation that comes back to haunt you a little bit.”
‘Injuries Are Beating Us Up’
So far, the Marlins have lost two-fifths of their projected starting rotation (Sixto Sanchez and Elieser Hernandez). In addition, the team saw its best player, Starling Marte, land on the IL with a rib injury. Then, Miami’s starting catcher, Jorge Alfaro, aggravated a hamstring injury, taxing an already short bench.
“Injuries are beating us up now,” Mattingly said Tuesday.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Miami moved Alfaro to the 10-day IL and selected León’s contract from the alternate site. After the game, Mattingly revealed Brian Anderson and Garrett Cooper are “a little nicked up” and the team needs to be “a little cautious” with their position players in an effort to get everyone back to 100 percent.
In her media availability on Wednesday, Marlins General Manager Kim Ng said Sanchez is still “a ways out,” but the team hopes Hernandez will throw a bullpen session next week.
More Marlins Positives
From a pitching perspective, Miami must be very encouraged by the bounce back efforts from their bullpen. After surrendering a rash of home runs early in the year, Marlins relievers have settled down and become more effective, particularly Anthony Bass and Adam Cimber.
Yimi Garcia continued to show he’s Miami’s closer. Garcia shut the door on Wednesday’s win, notching his fourth save of the season and lowering his ERA to 0.87. The Marlins are 6-0 in his last six appearances, during which he’s allowed just one run (not earned) over 6.1 IP. He’s recorded seven strikeouts over that span.
Mattingly’s move of Miguel Rojas to the lineup’s 2-hole in the wake of Marte’s injury proved positive as well. Versus Baltimore, Rojas reached base seven times in nine plate appearances and scored three runs.
Marlins Option Neidert
The team optioned Tuesday’s starter Nick Neidert to the alternate site, leaving an opening on the club’s 26-man active roster. Walks have been an issue for the 24-year-old right-hander. Over 12.0 IP, he’s issued 11 walks and hit one batter. He did not pitch beyond 4.2 innings in any of his three starts and has allowed nine earned runs, including three homers.
Neidert said his frustration versus the Orioles was “not being able to put guys away.” He admitted trying “to pitch to guys weaknesses instead of using my strengths.” At the alternate site, he’ll work on using all four of his pitches, including his changeup and curveball, instead of relying on solely his fastball and slider.
Mattingly said Neidert’s main issue has been location, and noted he went through the Braves lineup well and “was decent” against the Mets other than the walks.
It will be interesting to see how Miami elects to deal with Neidert’s turn in the rotation. Following the option, he can’t return to the active roster for 15 days unless there’s an injury. Hernandez won’t be ready by Sunday, but Paul Campbell, who relieved Neidert on Tuesday, could start, or the team could use John Curtiss as an opener, which they had planned to do on the previous road trip prior to the Mets rain fiasco. Anthony Bender is reportedly joining the taxi squad and could provide another bullpen arm if need be,
Miami has also been among the teams monitoring free agent starter (and former Marlin) Anibal Sanchez. The 37-year-old won’t start Sunday’s contest for the Marlins, but his addition could help this young pitching staff should the team elect to sign him.
Up Next: at San Francisco Giants (11-7)
The Marlins head west Wednesday, flying to California for a four-game tilt in San Francisco. After not seeing the Giants for more than a year, the Fish face off with their latest foe for the second time in less than a week.
Miami took 2-of-3 from the Giants in their last series, including a pair of thrilling wins ahead of a frustrating loss. The offense came through late in both of the wins before disappearing with a chance for the sweep.
Since the Marlins last saw San Francisco, the Giants took a series from the Philadelphia Phillies. San Francisco sports a veteran lineup which the Marlins will need to be careful with, especially Brandon Belt and Buster Posey. Even Alex Dickerson is heating up of late.
The Giants starting rotation should feature Aaron Sanchez (0-1, 2.45), Alex Wood (1-0, 0.00), Kevin Gausman (1-0, 2.45) and Logan Webb (0-1, 5.87). Sanchez surrendered only one earned run and five hits over 4.2 IP versus the Marlins last Saturday, while Wood stymied the Fish in his first start of the season.