As Francisco Mejia whiffed at a 95.6 mph fastball well outside the strike zone, Jesus Luzardo slammed his left hand into his glove in excitement as he walked off the mound.
The strikeout helped Luzardo get out of a fourth-inning jam and end his 11th start with the Miami Marlins on a high note.
But his first-inning struggles on Sunday, a 30-pitch opening frame, put the Marlins behind for good in their 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay swept the three-game series, winning the first two games 8-0 on Friday and 7-3 on Saturday. The Marlins are 64-91. The Rays, who clinched the AL East for the second consecutive season on Saturday, are 97-59.
“Just a little fast that first inning until he settled down,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Luzardo, “and then it was actually really good.”
Luzardo gave up two runs in that first inning. He walked Manuel Margo and gave up a line-drive double to Wander Franco, both of whom scored on sacrifice flies from Nelson Cruz and Yandy Diaz. Eight of the 40 runs Luzardo has allowed since joining the Marlins have come in the first inning.
“Today, it was really feel for the fastball,” Luzardo said of the first-inning struggles on Sunday. “The first at-bat of the game, I felt like I just didn’t have a good feel for it, which hasn’t really happened to me. I was throwing in the bullpen and felt great. Warm-up pitches felt fine and then just kind of lost feel the first batter. Once I found the zone again, I felt like I was just back in the groove.”
The 23-year-old lefty rebounded after that, retiring nine of the final 11 batters he faced over three scoreless innings.
He threw 12 pitches in a perfect second inning with strikeouts of Mejia and Brett Phillips. He needed 17 pitches to retire the side in the third on a popout, groundout and strikeout.
Diaz reached with one out in the fourth on an Eddy Alvarez fielding error and Jordan Luplow followed with a full-count double in the next at-bat, but Luzardo got Joey Wendle to fly out to shallow left field and struck out Mejia with that outside fastball to strand the two runners.
The Rays added a third run in the fifth against reliever Zach Pop.
Miami, meanwhile, broke up the shutout in the seventh on Alvarez’s RBI double against reliever JT Chargois that drove in Joe Panik and cut their deficit to one with a Lewin Diaz solo home run against Nick Anderson in the ninth but got no closer despite having chances in the final innings.
Rays starter Shane Baz retired the first nine Marlins batters he faced and allowed just three hits — two of which were by Jazz Chisholm Jr. — and one walk while striking out nine over 5 2/3 innings.
“We just didn’t get a lot going on,” Mattingly said.