The full Pablo Lopez experience played out in full in the fifth inning of the Miami Marlins’ 3-1 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday.
Lopez was cruising through another inning of work, with two outs and no runners on base in a 1-1 game, and suddenly the defense fell apart behind him. Jesus Aguilar committed an error, then Jon Berti. The starting pitcher’s margin for error vanished, so Mel Stottlemyre Jr. came to the mound. They talked through the situation and Lopez was ready for an escape. He struck out Carson Kelly on five pitches, headed to the dugout and watched the final four innings.
“We knew at the moment that’s probably the biggest at-bat of the night,” Lopez said. “The pitch count was high, first and third with two outs, so you know it’s a big at-bat and you just want to go at this guy with everything you’ve got.”
With five innings and no earned runs, Lopez lowered his ERA to 2.04 and he’s still winless in 2021. While everything around him threatened to break down, Lopez kept the Marlins (14-16) in position to win, and outfielder Adam Duvall eventually broke the tie with a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh and give Miami a 2-1 lead.
The Marlins have now won three of Lopez’s seven starts, and his five-inning gem let Miami finish off a three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks (15-16) and extend its winning streak to three games in front of 4,049 at loanDepot park.
One day after five relief pitchers combined to shut out Arizona, four relievers combined for four shutout innings behind Lopez, led in part by Dylan Floro — and with some major help from outfielder Magneuris Sierra. Floro (2-1) fired a 1-2-3 seventh inning, and Sierra kept the game tied 1-1 when he scaled the wall in left-center field and robbed a possible two-out home run by Diamondbacks utility infielder Asdrubal Cabrera.
“I saw the replay and I saw Cabrera’s face, and it was like, Unbelievable,” Sierra said through an interpreter. “I anticipated the ball and the trajectory and I was able to make the catch.”
Two pitches later, Duvall cranked a 407-foot home run off Arizona pitcher J.B. Bukauskas to put the Marlins ahead for good. After Madison Bumgarner held Miami to one run on two hits in six innings, the Marlins jumped on Bukauskas (1-1) for two runs on three hits in the seventh.
Miguel Rojas gave Miami its only run against Bumgarner immediately. The shortstop launched his third pitch of the game just wide of the left-field foul pole. He launched the Diamondbacks starting pitcher’s fourth 404 feet to left to put the Marlins ahead 1-0.
A half inning later, he gave the lead back. Lopez was headed to a 1-2-3 inning on 11 pitches when he got Arizona catcher Daulton Varsho to tap a grounder up the middle. The ball hit off the mound and Rojas couldn’t field it cleanly. His first error of the season extended the inning and the Diamondbacks tied the game 1-1 on a double by Arizona slugger Pavin Smith.
Despite a series of defensive breakdowns, Lopez made it through five innings on 94 pitches, allowing just three hits and one unearned run, while striking out six and walking two. Behind him, Miami finished its first sweep of the year.
“He’s kind of getting to that point like Sandy [Alcantara]. It’s like even when you don’t think he’s quite as sharp as he could be, it’s still outings where he keeps runs down,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He did a nice job of kind of battling all night long and making big pitches when he needed to.”
Bender impresses in unlikely debut
There was only one month — really more like three weeks — when Anthony Bender was ready to give up on his major-league dream.
After going to the Kansas City Royals in the 20th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Bender toiled in the minor leagues for three seasons before the Royals gave up on him in spring training of 2019. He thought, for a moment, it might be over. For close to a month, there was no baseball to think about until he finally landed in Iowa with the Sioux City Explorers of the American Association of Professional Baseball.
“It was a lot of just downtime,” Bender said Wednesday, a few hours before he finally made his major-league debut in Miami. “You’d see all the baseball on TV. You question like, ‘Do I have it?’ ... But the minute I got to indie ball after that, it was all hands on deck and I haven’t looked back since.”
Bender signed with the Milwaukee Brewers after a little more than a month in Sioux City and rose to Double A Biloxi (Mississippi). With no affiliated minor-league baseball last year, Bender spent 2020 back in the American Association of Professional Baseball with the Milwaukee Milkmen before the Marlins signed him and invited him to spring training this year.
On Wednesday, he made his long-awaited MLB debut, tossing a shutout inning with two strikeouts and one hit allowed. He struck out Diamondbacks outfielder Tim LoCastro with a 98-mph sinker, topped out at 99 mph, threw 16 of 21 pitches for strikes and hit 97 mph nine times.
“All spring it’s like, ‘Wow. Who’s this guy and how did we get a hold of him?’” manager Don Mattingly said Wednesday. “His stuff is off the charts.”
The Marlins considered him a contender for a roster spot all throughout spring, but keeping a pair of Rule 5 draft picks meant sending Bender to the alternate training site. Relief pitcher Paul Campbell, one of those Rule 5 picks, is now suspended 80 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, though. There was a new spot open on Miami’s active roster, and the Marlins called him up Tuesday ahead of a three-game series against the Diamondbacks in Miami.
“That’s one of the cool things of playing this game,” outfielder Adam Duvall said Wednesday. “You see some cool stories like that.”
Said Bender: “It’s been quite the adventure, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Jazz Chisholm begins running progression
Jazz Chisholm began his running progression Wednesday as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
The rookie went on the injured list last week and is now day-to-day. He will be eligible to return as soon as Saturday.
“He ran yesterday. I think he ran kind of the straight line, maybe a hair of curve,” Mattingly said. “He took ground balls, so he has started that progression and then it’s just a matter of us listening to the medical of how that progression goes.”