February 3, 2023

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Despite unique line, Marlins fall on two misreads 

4 min read
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ST. PETERSBURG — The Citrus Series hasn’t been much of a rivalry since the start of 2019, with the Marlins dropping 15 of the past 17 games to the Rays. That trend continued in Tuesday night’s 4-0 loss at Tropicana Field.

Perennial playoff contender Tampa Bay is a master at execution, and thus at winning close ballgames. Miami is striving to reach that level. Three plays defined that sentiment in the series opener.

Right out of the gate
When Kevin Kiermaier lined the first pitch from Pablo López to center field in the first inning, Jesús Sánchez broke in and dove for the ball. Entering Tuesday, he had recorded zero Defensive Runs Saved and ranked in the 77th percentile for outfielder jump despite playing center for the first time in the Majors. He showcased that skill on the play.

Sánchez got to the spot, covering 41 feet when he only needed 39. That was precisely the problem, as his glove missed the ball, which rolled to the wall. Kiermaier raced around the basepaths (29.9 ft/sec) and slid home safely feet-first for his fourth career inside-the-park home run.

The 24-year-old Sánchez, who was part of the 2019 Trade Deadline deal that sent Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards to the Rays for the outfielder and Ryne Stanek, said his struggles at the plate haven’t made him try to overcompensate on defense. Since April 24, when he was slashing .340/.386/.623, he is 11-for-81 (.136) with four extra-base hits and 30 strikeouts.

“It is a different turf than the one in Miami, but that’s not an excuse,” Sánchez said via an interpreter. “I missed the play. I was going to make it, and I missed it.”

Atypical López outing
That set the tone for an unusual start by López, who surrendered a career-high-tying three homers for the first time since Aug. 31, 2019. He went seven innings, allowing four runs — all on taters — on nine hits with eight strikeouts and no walks. Since 1901, that is the first time a pitcher has recorded that stat line.

Former Marlins teammate Harold Ramírez took López deep in their first matchup to lead off the second, lining a sinker over the right-field wall. López was surprised the ball went out because even though he missed his location, it was outside of the strike zone.

“I think they used to call him ‘Hitting Harold’ because he hits the balls that are in the strike zone,” López said. “I think he got me with one that was outside of the strike zone. Good hitter. You’ve got to be specific with him, got to make sure that your pitches are quality, and that you always keep on mixing between.”

Added Ramírez: “I don’t know how I hit it, but I hit it.”

More so than that homer — a showcase in raw strength and impressive bat-to-ball skills — López said he became too predictable during the sixth inning on Randy Arozarena’s double and Ji-Man Choi’s ensuing homer. Both came on López’s elite changeup (.174 wOBA).

Over his last two starts, López’s MLB-low ERA has jumped from 1.05 to 2.04 after giving up seven runs over 10 innings.

Odd bounce proves costly
With Jazz Chisholm Jr. (left hamstring tightness) and Miguel Rojas (left calf tightness) nursing injuries, Garrett Cooper was penciled in as the leadoff batter for the first time in his big league career. He went 2-for-4, with both hits against Shane McClanahan, MLB’s strikeout king.

But Cooper was part of a thwarted sixth-inning rally, when Miami had its best shot of getting on the scoreboard and avoiding its third shutout of the season. With the Marlins trailing 2-0, Cooper opened the frame with a single and moved to second on Jesús Aguilar’s single. A double play advanced Cooper to third.

Then McClanahan’s pitch got past catcher Mike Zunino, caromed off a metal part of the backstop and bounced past Zunino and McClanahan onto the infield dirt. Third baseman Isaac Paredes scooped it up and threw home, and Zunino applied the easy tag on Cooper (25.2 ft/sec), who is by no means a speedy runner.

“It’s just a tough play, tough read on both sides,” Cooper said. “It didn’t work out in our favor, didn’t work out in my favor. Just learn from it. Not many ballparks have a backstop like that, that bounce like that. You play here one time a year. It is what it is.”

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