The lede for this one should’ve been the offensive explosion. However, a bullpen meltdown cost Miami the game, a chorus all too familiar to Marlins fans. Here are five takeaways from the Marlins exhibition disaster.
Walks Plagued the Bullpen During Marlins Exhibition
In 2019, the Marlins featured one of the worst bullpens in MLB. Miami relievers posted the fifth-worst ERA (4.97), strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.11) and save percentage (55.1). Their WHIP (1.45) was seventh worst. Relievers blew 22 save opportunities and surrendered a .235 batting-average-against and .343 on-base percentage.
On Tuesday night, the bullpen issued five free passes to Braves batters. All five of those walks came around to score. Jeff Brigham, working his way back from a biceps injury this spring, walked Freddie Freeman then surrendered a run-scoring double to former Marlin Marcell Ozuna in the sixth inning.
In the eighth, the combination of Robert Dugger and Adam Conley melted down completely. The two combined to allow eight earned runs, five hits and four walks. All four free passes found the plate for Atlanta.
“Obviously, that’s something that has plagued us last year, the walks,” Mattingly said. “It’s something that we addressed all spring and we’ll continue to address. That’s not something we’ll put up with this year, not throwing strikes and giving free bases in those situations.”
Adam Conley’s on Thin Ice
In one-third inning of work, Conley jeopardized his spot in the Marlins bullpen. He walked Matt Adams, threw a wild pitch which allowed Freeman to score, walked Yonder Alonso, then gave up four runs on back-to-back doubles. He struck out William Contreras before surrendering the lead on Adam Duvall‘s single.
Once a promising young starter, Conley settled into a relief role in 2018. He performed well that season, holding opponents to a .207 batting average and inducing ground balls on 50 percent of the balls put in play. But in 2019, Conley regressed. He posted a career-worst 6.53 ERA and opponents hit .308 against him.
For 2020, the Marlins have other options. Conley’s on a one-year, $1.5-million contract. The team brought a pair of young lefties with them to Atlanta in Alex Vesia and Stephen Tarpley. Vesia profiles as a late-inning, high-leverage reliever. New closer Brandon Kintzler’s slider is also an effective weapon versus left-handed hitters.
Other Bullpen Arms Looked Good During the Marlins Exhibition
While it always hurts to cough up a seven-run lead, Marlins fans can take solace in the fact it was an exhibition game. Yimi Garcia and Kintzler, the presumptive late inning pitchers for Miami, had already thrown once the eighth rolled around. The two combined for one hit and three strikeouts over two innings.
All told, the Marlins bullpen registered eight strikeouts over 5.2 IP. Remove the eighth and they surrendered two earned runs.
Nick Neidert showed his stuff in an inning of work. The 23-year-old righty flashed his potential as piggyback option for the back of the rotation by surrendering just one hit and striking out Charlie Culberson. Neidert fell behind Culberson 2-0, then responded with a two-seam fastball, breaking ball, fastball progression to register the swinging strikeout.
Fellow rookie prospect Alex Vesia entered in the ninth and quickly posted a pair of strikeouts. Six of Vesia’s first eight pitches went for strikes. He did, however, surrender the walk-off home run to Matt Adams on a four-seamer left up in the zone.
Brad Boxberger cleaned up Conley’s mess in the eighth by striking out the only batter he faced.
The Marlins sought to improve on its league-worst home run total in 2019 this offseason with the acquisitions of Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar. The Marlins were 29th in runs scored as well.
On Tuesday night, the new additions to the lineup proved valuable. Villar, Dickerson and Aguilar combined to go 6-for-12 with four RBI, two runs scored, a homer and a stolen base.
Dickerson’s two-run RBI single in the fifth was particularly impressive. The lefty took a 1-2 offering from Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz and drove it into center, plating Miguel Rojas and Villar. Dickerson choked up and got his front foot down quickly to punch the pitch to center.
Villar’s 3-for-4 night demonstrated his value at the top of the order and Aguilar helped produce in the middle of the lineup.
New Offensive Philosophy On Display
Although he’ll never step into the batter’s box, the addition of new bench coach/offensive coordinator James Rowson payed dividends early in this one.
In 2019, Rowson helped guide Minnesota’s high-powered to a record 307 home runs. Minnesota also scored the second-most runs in baseball (939) and sported the fourth-lowest strikeout rate in the league (21 percent). His work, along with new hitting coach Eric Duncan, demonstrates a seed-change for the franchise.
In Spring Training, Rowson said: “We’re going out there with intent to do damage on every pitch.”
At no point was that more obvious than in the third inning. Three Marlins hitters, Jorge Alfaro, Rojas and Villar, hit three consecutive home runs on four total pitches seen.
“The back-to-back-to-backs get us rolling,” Mattingly said. “But then I thought we did a nice job of stringing some hits together, adding on and continuing to play.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Miami has achieved this feat once in a regular season game. On August 26, 1998 in St. Louis, Derek Lee, Cliff Floyd and Kevin Orie hit back-to-back-to-back home runs.
What’s more, in the second inning, Marlins batters fouled off seven two-strike pitches. Only one batter reached base that inning, but Foltynewicz ultimately threw 23 pitches in the frame. Making him work the inning prior helped prime the Marlins three-homer binge to start the third.
The Marlins registered 14 hits on Tuesday night, including four home runs. Outfield prospect Jesus Sanchez tied the game in the top of the ninth with his 416-foot blast to right. In the hands of Rowson and Duncan, Miami’s offense looks like it’s on the right track.