July 6, 2022

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3 takeaways from a hard-fought opening series in SF

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SAN FRANCISCO — Facing the reigning National League West champion Giants to open the 2022 season turned out to be a good litmus test for the Marlins.

Hours before dropping Sunday’s rubber match, 3-2, at Oracle Park, manager Don Mattingly said the ballclub had moved past moral victories. In order to be a contender, Miami couldn’t settle for fighting hard but landing on the losing end of results. By the same token, Sunday’s finale marked the third straight season-opening game decided by one run — the third time that has happened in franchise history, following 1994 and 2002.

“I think we should have been 3-0,” said Garrett Cooper, who exited Sunday’s game after being hit by a pitch on his left wrist. “It is what it is. They came up with a big hit in the ninth in the first game, and they came up with a hit today that put them ahead. I don’t think any of us are feeling down. We went head-to-head with them.”

Here are three takeaways from the opening series.

Bats hibernating
Oracle Park isn’t a hitter-friendly ballpark. Combine that with an expedited spring, cooler weather and a solid San Francisco pitching staff, and it’s no wonder the offense didn’t bust out.

Middle-of-the-order bats Cooper (3-for-11), Avisaíl García (2-for-13) and Jesús Aguilar (1-for-13) combined for just one RBI — on Cooper’s bases-loaded HBP. Mattingly isn’t concerned about that group because of its track record — as well as the fact that the hits started coming on Sunday: Miami collected 11, but stranded eight by going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

There was an encouraging sign atop the lineup. Reigning World Series MVP Jorge Soler began his Marlins career hitless in seven at-bats, then reached in six straight plate appearances via three walks and three hits.

“There’s something about getting that first hit,” Soler said via an interpreter. “Mostly when you’re in a new team, it’s something you want to just get over with. But hopefully after that, things will come out successful.”

Flashing the leather
Opening Day was an atypical showing for the typically sharp Marlins defense (two errors), which features three Gold Glove finalists in Joey Wendle, Brian Anderson and Miguel Rojas. Then there’s Jazz Chisholm Jr., who has good advanced metrics at second base.

Following a flawless Saturday on the diamond, Miami nearly did it again on Sunday. Chisholm set the tone in his return to the lineup, robbing Austin Slater of a leadoff hit with a diving play.

And while much has been said about the outfield defense — or possible lack thereof — García threw out a runner on Friday and Soler robbed Darin Ruf of a hit on Sunday. Primarily a right fielder and a designated hitter in his career, Soler entered 2022 with -5 Defensive Runs Saved in left — a position he last played in ’17 with the Royals. Jesús Sánchez looked comfortable in center, where he last appeared in ‘19 at the Triple-A level.

Mattingly didn’t shy away from saying the Marlins have been built for more offense. While the outfield might not be Gold Glove-caliber, it should be playable.

“I felt like it was a pretty good indication of what we can be as far as our pitching, what kind of club we feel like we can be,” Mattingly said. “I think defensively we’re going to be fine. And offensively, I think this is not really an indication of what we’re going to be. I think we’re going to be a dangerous club as the summer goes on.”

Keeping it close
After a 6-5 walk-off loss in the 10th inning on Friday night, Miami relievers tossed seven consecutive scoreless innings to wrap up the series. The tide began to turn when Richard Bleier and Anthony Bender, both of whom gave up key runs in the opener, redeemed themselves in Saturday’s 2-1 victory.

Everyone except Cody Poteet and Daniel Castano appeared out of the 10-man bullpen. Newcomers Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott were impressive, while Steven Okert struck out four of six batters in his return to San Francisco. Anthony Bass, who took the loss on Friday, gave Miami four outs on Sunday.

Without an experienced closer, the Marlins have built their bullpen with multiple high-leverage options. On a day like Sunday, when Sulser, Bleier and Bender likely were unavailable, Mattingly could turn to Shawn Armstrong and Bass.

“That’s how this whole bullpen is going to be,” Bender said. “We’ve all got each other’s back, and they go out there and you just feed off that.”

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