August 13, 2022

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López records just 1 strikeout for first time since '19

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MIAMI — With fewer than 72 hours until Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET Trade Deadline, Marlins right-hander Pablo López took the mound on Sunday afternoon at loanDepot park as scheduled.

López surrendered a career-high 12 hits in a season-low 2 2/3 innings as the Marlins fell, 9-3, to the National League East-leading Mets for the series sweep. Excluding the 2021 finale coming back from injury and last July’s one-pitch start due to an ejection, it was López’s shortest outing since Sept. 9, 2020.

“No, 100 percent not,” López said of whether the trade rumors affected him. “Obviously, rumors are just rumors. They’re not a fact until something actually happens. If I told you that I haven’t heard anything, I would be lying to you. But at the end of the day, my focus the last four or five days has been getting ready for today’s start — preparation both mentally and physically to give my team a chance to win today.”

The 26-year-old López, who already has set a career high for innings in a season (116), was coming off his best start of 2022 – a career-high-tying 11-strikeout performance in Cincinnati on Tuesday. That didn’t carry over into the series finale.

Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. visited the mound four batters into the game following three consecutive Mets hits. López needed 29 pitches to complete the three-run, five-hit first inning, in which eight batters stepped to the plate. It continued career-long trends of first-inning woes (a 4.44 ERA entering Sunday) and struggles against the Mets (a 4.63 ERA in eight starts). 

Though López induced an inning-ending double play off NL MVP candidate Pete Alonso in the second, the righty was unable to escape the three-run third and was done at just 71 pitches. 

“With him, you’ve got to just be balanced,” said Mark Canha, who recorded RBI singles in the first and third. “There’s no secrets to hitting Pablo. He moves the ball around so well and has different ways he can get you out. So I feel like you just have to be balanced and not try to do too much. You saw why we had success today. There wasn’t any home runs. We just kind of knocked the ball around the yard and tried to get barrels on it, and you do the best you can with that, because he’s tough.”

Canha went on to say familiarity helps. Sunday’s series finale marked the third time López has squared off against the Mets in 2022. It becomes easier for a lineup to game plan and look for patterns. New York made adjustments quicker than López. Marlins manager Don Mattingly noted that the Mets have had López’s number since Spring Training.

In fact, López’s velocity was fine — he even reached a season-high 97.3 mph. His stuff was there. The Mets not only capitalized on mistakes but found holes. López entered with a .205 batting average against, fourth best in the NL and eighth in MLB. The Mets hit .632 (12-for-19) on Sunday. López only struck out one batter for the first time since Sept. 22, 2019.

“Today’s one of the days [where] physically, I felt the best,” López said. “Good fastball. I think my hand was on top of all the pitches. I was repeating my delivery well. I was moving the right way, but location wasn’t as crisp, as pristine as you would hope against a team like that. They waited for the mistakes. They made me pay for it.”

On Saturday when addressing reporters, general manager Kim Ng was hesitant to call the organization’s starting-pitching depth a surplus, considering how injuries have affected the 2022 rotation. Trevor Rogers, Jesús Luzardo, Edward Cabrera, Max Meyer, Daniel Castano, Cody Poteet, Jordan Holloway, Elieser Hernandez and Sixto Sánchez have all been sidelined with injuries.

Sandy Alcantara is the ace of the staff. Who would step in as his right-hand man if López is shipped? The names above come with less experience, less success and nearly as much injury history. For a club like the Marlins, the Deadline is a balance of improving an area of need (hitting) while not subtracting too much from a strength (pitching) for both the present and the future.

Asked whether Miami was leaning one way or the other, Ng said: “I think a deal that really helps us has to present itself. We’re not out there looking to move Pablo. But as I’ve said before, we’re listening on all fronts. We’ve got to get the club better.”

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