February 3, 2023

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Marlins' opener plan for Elieser goes awry

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MIAMI — The Marlins continue to look for ways to right the ship for starter Elieser Hernandez. So for the first time in 2022, they elected to use an opener in Friday night’s matchup with the Giants at loanDepot park to boost Hernandez’s advantage.

It did not pan out in a 15-6 loss, the club’s most lopsided defeat this season. Where does Miami go from here?

“That’s a good question,” manager Don Mattingly said. “I think it’s hard to answer that after a game like that. But we will talk about it, see what we do. I know we’ve tried different things, trying to get him going. Obviously, today, trying to change it up a little bit. It didn’t work. It hasn’t been great.”

Miami used an opener 10 times in 2021, going 4-6 and giving up at least one run in half of those outings. The organization had been revisiting the concept, even for Hernandez’s last start in Atlanta, before finally choosing to do so on Friday morning. Mattingly’s rationale behind the game plan was simple: San Francisco is a left-handed-heavy lineup (five on Friday), and Hernandez could face the top of the order fewer times.

It made sense when looking at Hernandez’s career splits:

• .272/.349/.568 vs. lefties
• .236/.317/.450 first time through the order
• .239/.277/.515 second time through
• .333/.402/.787 third time through

The strategy started rough as left-hander Richard Bleier needed 24 pitches to get through the first inning, falling behind to three of five batters. He allowed a leadoff single to Wilmer Flores and walked Mike Yastrzemski on four pitches. An Evan Longoria flyout advanced both runners, and had it not been for a nice diving play by second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr., Brandon Crawford would have tallied a two-run single instead of an RBI groundout.

Bleier wasn’t among the five relievers to serve in that role in 2021. In fact, he was making just his second career start and first since 2019. Since being dealt to the Marlins in 2020, Bleier has been the top high-leverage southpaw in the bullpen. With more fluid roles and early-season struggles in 2022, that has changed a bit.

“I’m trying to get three outs before they score, just like I would in any other inning I pitch,” Bleier said. “The pregame stuff was a little different, but it was just really about getting ready for a game, however you need to do it. But as far as opening or anything, I don’t think it had an effect on me or anything like that. I just didn’t pitch well tonight.”

Hernandez, who was scheduled to start the game, took over in the second. The 27-year-old righty said coming out of the bullpen, something he did in the early stages of his career and as recently as last week in St. Petersburg, didn’t affect him because he knew he was going to pitch on Friday regardless.

But it didn’t make a difference, as Hernandez’s 2022 struggles continued. He allowed eight runs over 4 1/3 innings, surrendering four homers to give him an MLB-high 18 on the season. Hernandez called the outing “terrible,” blaming his season-long theme of missed location. His 6.75 ERA is now second highest among MLB pitchers with at least 45 innings, just lower than Washington’s Patrick Corbin (6.96).

“I continue working hard watching videos, working ahead of every start, and I know that I’ve got to do a good job,” Hernandez said via an interpreter. “Hopefully soon.”

Before deciding on what to do with Hernandez, the Marlins must figure out Sunday’s starter: Will it be a callup or a bullpen game?

After a Tuesday rainout in Colorado, the club had to play a doubleheader on Wednesday, forcing prospect Edward Cabrera and lefty Trevor Rogers to start on the same day. Friday’s result doesn’t help matters, though Miami only used three relievers in Bleier, Louis Head and Cole Sulser. Utility player Willians Astudillo tossed a scoreless ninth.

Miami’s primary option would be No. 21 prospect Braxton Garrett, who last pitched on Sunday for Triple-A Jacksonville and is lined up for Saturday. Other options including Jordan Holloway, Sixto Sánchez and Paul Campbell remain sidelined.

“Just appreciate Elieser’s going to keep fighting,” Mattingly said. “He’s going to keep going. You know that when you leave him out there for that extra inning, as you talk about that, he knows he’s kind of in a sense — not necessarily thrown to the wolves — but he’s kind of taking one for the club there to give us a better chance to win tomorrow.”

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