Pablo Lopez, who is in the midst of one of the best starts to a season ever by a Marlins starting pitcher, wasn’t anywhere near himself on Wednesday night.
The Marlins, however, picked up their starter after his rare struggles led by a resilient effort from an ailing Jazz Chisholm Jr., who homered, tripled and drove in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly that nearly wasn’t.
All of that was still not enough, however, to allow the Marlins to complete a three-game sweep of the visiting Washington Nationals as they fell 5-4 in 10 innings at loanDepot Park.
Former Marlins All-Star Dee Strange-Gordon began the 10th as the runner on second and came around to score after a Victor Robles sac bunt and Keibert Ruiz double off Daniel Castano.
The Marlins (17-20) pushed their automatic runner in the bottom of the 10th — reliever Anthony Bass — to third with two outs after a deep fly ball by Avisail Garcia. But Brian Anderson grounded out to end the game and send the Marlins to their 12th one-run loss of the season.
Chisholm, who blasted a 412-foot solo homer to center in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game at 3 and drove home Jesus Sanchez in the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 4, did all of that despite not feeling well throughout the course of the day.
“I’m still feeling pretty bad right now, got the shivers all day and still feeling them now,” Chisholm said after the game. “Earlier today, I was just resting all day and when I got to the field, they asked me if I could still play. I felt like I could push through it. I felt like I could just play through it, like I could flip the switch when I needed to do it.”
Chisholm appeared to be a little subdued after hitting his seventh home run of the season, and was seen sipping a hot beverage and sitting inside the dugout with a towel draped over him instead of standing at the top of the rail like he usually does.
But when he was on the field, Chisholm was his typical fast and dynamic self as he nearly willed the Marlins to a win.
“I told him before the game that sometimes you have your best game when you don’t feel great,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I think your focus just goes up when you know you just have to get through it.”
For a few moments, it seemed the Nationals (13-26) had hung on for the win in the ninth despite Chisholm’s heroics though after appealing that Sanchez had left third base early and getting the out call initially. But after replay review, the call was overturned and the run counted, sending the game to extras.
“Our message from our guy was that he didn’t leave early,” Mattingly said. “You do feel like it would be overturned but they just have to make the call there so I was hoping it would go our way. It’s rare to see a guy leave early and it was one of those where you don’t feel like you need to cheat too much (off the bag), so we felt confident there.”
As far as Lopez goes, it was an atypical performance in which he spent most of the 82-pitch, three-inning session searching for answers. Lopez allowed three runs on four hits while issuing a season-high three walks and striking out a season-low two batters.
Lopez labored through what was his shortest start since going three innings on June 13, 2021 (not counting his start July 2 in Atlanta when he was ejected after one pitch for hitting Ronald Acuna Jr. or his start Oct. 3 when he was used as an opener, pitching 1 ⅔ innings after recovering from a shoulder injury).
It was one of just four total outings over the past two seasons in which Lopez pitched three innings or fewer.
“I think the main thing was that something wasn’t right and I just kept searching and searching for it instead of just competing in the moment,” Lopez said. “While I was searching the Nationals stayed true to their plan and made me raise my pitches in the strike zone and did their damage. I was just battling myself as I was battling their offense.”
Lopez gave up a run in the first after allowing a leadoff triple to Cesar Hernandez, who then scored on a wild pitch. Ruiz, Alcides Escobar and Hernandez all doubled in the second inning leading to the other two runs.
Three of the four hits Lopez allowed came off his changeup, which induced only two whiffs on 10 swings (20 percent). This compared to his 45.3 percent whiff rate he had on that pitch entering Wednesday’s game which was the most in the league among pitchers who have had at least 100 swings against the pitch, according to Statcast.
This forced Lopez to rely more on his fastball to get outs.
“For them, they had a good plan against the changeup and to make them swing at it I had to offer it and I had to show I could throw it for strikes instead of just trying to make them chase it and I didn’t do a good job of that tonight,” Lopez said. “There were changeups they were laying off and they were not in the strike zone. I never gave myself a chance to let them know I could. They had a good plan and stayed with it and it worked out for them.”
According to Baseball Reference, Lopez’s 1.57 ERA following the rocky start still ranks second all-time in Marlins history through the first eight starts of a season behind only Dontrelle Willis’ 1.45 ERA in 2005.
It was only the second game Lopez allowed multiple runs this season (four runs — three earned — in 4 2/3 innings against the Diamondbacks on May 2).
Lopez exited the game with the Marlins trailing 3-1. But Miami rallied with a run in the third and fifth innings.
Miami received a mostly-strong effort from its bullpen, which combined to allow one run over the next six innings. The lone run came in the eighth when Anthony Bender could not record an out among the four batters he faced. Bender gave up a single to Yadiel Hernandez, walked Ruiz, gave up a single to Maikel Franco and then forced in a run when he hit Lane Thomas with a pitch.
Miguel Rojas and Erik Gonzalez led off the bottom of the third with back-to-back singles and Rojas scored three batters later on a sacrifice fly from Garrett Cooper.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Jorge Soler was out of the lineup for the second consecutive game after Marlins manager Don Mattingly said he had experienced lower back stiffness. With the Marlins off on Thursday, the club hopes Soler will be ready when Miami hosts his former team, the Atlanta Braves for three games starting Friday at loanDepot Park.
▪ Bryan De La Cruz, who was hit by a pitch on his right forearm in the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game, was also held out for similar reasons. Sanchez started in center on Wednesday for the first time in three games.
“It’s swollen, but he swung the bat and threw the ball,” Mattingly said. “We’re confident he’s fine.”
If Soler and De La Cruz are out longer, Brian Anderson or perhaps Avisail Garcia are potential options to play center in the short term if necessary.
▪ Mattingly also said starting pitcher Jesus Luzardo (left forearm strain) won’t be rushed back even if it means he misses more than one start.
Luzardo is 2-3 with 41 strikeouts, 16 walks and a 4.03 ERA in 29 innings (six starts) this season.
“When he’s ok to throw a bullpen we’ll go from there,” Mattingly said. “We’re pretty confident this won’t be extended, but whatever it has to be, we’ve been lucky with the off days falling the way they have right now.”
If Luzardo, who is on the 15-day injured list retro to May 12, is out longer than expected Cody Poteet could be an option to remain in the rotation in the short term.
Poteet struck out four and gave up one hit and one walk over 4⅔ scoreless innings in a spot start on Tuesday. Mattingly said Poteet would be given a couple of days to rest before potentially returning to a long relief role, but it’s possible he could make another spot start if needed.
“His changeup has continued to develop and given him a weapon against lefties,” Mattingly said. “It’s been a difference maker for him having that third pitch and he’s been putting himself in good counts.”
▪ Anderson’s fourth-inning single extended his on-base streak to 22 consecutive games.