September 27, 2022

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Hernandez bit by fastball in debut loss

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Sánchez's pair of homers not enough vs. Angels
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ANAHEIM — Elieser Hernandez’s start lasted 76 pitches on Monday night. Two pitches determined his outcome in a 6-2 loss

Hernandez was poised to escape first-inning trouble against an Angels lineup that did not include Mike Trout. With Shohei Ohtani on third base and two outs, his 3-2 pitch to Max Stassi appeared to catch the inside corner. Home plate umpire Nick Mahrley did not agree. Brandon Walsh took the next pitch 430 feet to straightaway center field and put the Marlins in a 3-0 hole. 

Jo Adell later followed with one out and none on in the second, taking Hernandez deep over the wall in right-center field.

“It took him a little bit to get going,” said manager Don Mattingly. “He really hadn’t pitched in a while. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to make excuses and it seemed like once he got his breaking ball going and his offspeed pitches going, he did a nice job of holding it there.” 

Hernandez suffered a bruised forearm off a comebacker during his final spring start. It limited his pitch count for this regular-season debut to around 75.

The 26-year-old right-hander, who had two stints on the 60-day injured list last year, was particularly ineffective with his fastball — a troubling trend after he surrendered a .354 average and .697 slugging percentage on the pitch during his limited 2021 action. Of the five hits he allowed, four came off a fastball that topped out at 92 mph — including the three-run homer from Walsh and the solo blast by Adell.

“Making mistakes is part of the game,” Hernandez said through a translator. “You just have to continue working hard and do better.”

He settled down after the pair of homers, including his last two meetings with the reigning AL MVP. Ohtani led off with a solid single up the middle, then stole second as Anthony Rendon struck out. But his next two at-bats versus Hernandez resulted in weak popups to the left side. Additionally, five of his six strikeouts came on the slider.

Marlins hitters did very little to answer the early Angels scoring. They struck out 11 times against starter Michael Lorenzen and three relievers. That brought their total to 40 strikeouts in four games — the highest per game average thus far in the National League.

Jesús Sánchez was the exception. He led off the fourth with a monster home run to right center that traveled a projected 439 feet, had a 110 mph exit velocity and a 32-degree launch angle. Then, just as the Angels were prepared to close out their victory, he added a towering blast to right field.

Sánchez, who hasn’t played much center field since Triple-A in 2019, also made a stellar defensive play in the sixth when he ran down a potential extra-base hit.

“To get comfortable is a matter of repetition,” he said through an interpreter. “That’s something I’ve been doing a lot of during batting practice. Repeating all the steps [out there] and feeling more comfortable there.”

Aside from Sanchez, the only other Miami hit came on a Joey Wendle third-inning double. The middle of the order remained cold. Garrett Cooper, a late addition to the starting lineup at DH following a wrist contusion from a hit-by-pitch Sunday, went 1-for-5 and is batting .200. Jesús Aguilar went 0-for-3 and his average stands at .063.

Mattingly may have taken out some frustration for his team’s 1-3 start on home plate umpire Mahrley. With Aguilar up in the fourth, Mattingly objected to a low strike call and Mahrley tossed him. Mattingly quickly emerged from the dugout for a brief discussion.

“I felt like [the ejection] was quick,” Mattingly said. “Usually you get a little more rope but obviously not tonight.”

The top of the eighth began under a light mist, which by Southern California standards is a downpour. The Angels later poured on some runs. They scored twice against the Miami bullpen and put an end to a stretch of nine-plus consecutive scoreless innings dating back to Opening Day.

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