The Miami Marlins hardly ever put up the sort of complete, dominant performance they mustered up tonight versus the Colorado Rockies on Opening Night. In front of a packed house of 37,116 fans, the Fish displayed a level of dominance that this team has not experienced since the fire sale trade diminished the roster's talents for 2013 and beyond. The Marlins trounced the Rockies 10-1 and held first game serve at home for the first time in the Miami Marlins era.
The effort began with Jose Fernandez, who appeared at the onset to be in for a potentially difficult evening. The Rockies managed to get two runners aboard with just one out to begin the first inning. But Fernandez mowed down Troy Tulowitzki, escaped the inning, and did not look back until Carlos Gonzalez tacked on the Rockies' lone run via a solo shot.
Fernandez's weapon of choice, as expected, was the strikeout. He was dominant in racking up nine strikeouts in just six innings of work (94 pitches). Fernandez got hitters to swing and miss a whopping 16 times out of those 94 pitches, which is an absurd 17 percent whiff rate! No Rockies hitter was safe, as all but two of the Rockies' starters (Nolan Arenado and Gonzalez) were able to avoid the strikeout at his hands.
As expected, Fernandez's pitch choices were primarily centered around the fastball and the curve. While the curve was its typical mind-bending impressive, Marlins fans have to be impressed by the heater as well. Fernandez averaged a whopping 97 mph on his fastball for the entire evening, which was cut short after the team had a shot at extending the lead with Fernandez already over 90 pitches. He even got a 15 percent swinging strike rate on the fastball; as a comparison, most fastballs have a whiff per swing rate of 15 percent, but Fernandez got 15 of his overall fastballs go for whiffs. He kept the gas pedal on tonight in velocity and it paid off in a major way.
The Marlins did not need more than two runs tonight, so had the team struggled to score runs like they had been doing all of last season, it would be an understandable and more nerve-racking affair. Luckily for Marlins fans, that was not the case, and it started with Marcell Ozuna. The man who almost lost his starting job for having such a terrible performance in Spring Training put up perhaps his best game as a Major Leaguer.
It all started with that home run, just the fourth of his big-league career. While it was not a majestic piece of work, Ozuna made up for its lack of impressive nature with quick speed off the bat. He golfed a Jorge de la Rosa pitch in line drive-fashion from his ankles or knees all the way out to the left field seats. He then ripped a similar pitch down the left field line for a double that would eventually allow him to score on (of all things) an Adeiny Hechavarria single. Ozuna also got a single and finished the night one triple shy of the Marlins' first potential hit for the cycle, but that does not take anything away from Ozuna's awesome night.
I would be remiss if I made it seem like Ozuna provided all the offense. The player hitting behind him, Hechavarria, smacked two RBI singles to help get Ozuna home. Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Casey McGehee (batting cleanup for the game against the lefty de la Rosa) each drove some well-struck balls out to deep recesses of the stadium. Stanton's line drive double was of special note to me because, as I attended this game in the bullpen reserved location right next to the team's bullpen in right field.
The Marlins manufactured a five-run inning that began with Ozuna's impressive double but was triggered by a series of weakly-hit balls. Yelich's first hit of 2014 was a dribbler to the third base side that had Arenado ready for a basepath steamrolling at the hands of Hechavarria. Then, two batters later, the bases were loaded for Giancarlo Stanton, only for him to hit one "almost 50 feet," as described by one of our loyal Fish Stripes readers, that somehow sneaked past defender's gloves on the way to an infield single.
The early part of the game seemed like fortunate bounces the Marlins' way. The latter part was more impressive, but it was the team's complete performance that most impressed me in the first of a three-game set.