Throughout the offseason, we’re going over the top 100 players to appear in a Marlins uniform, using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to order them. Today’s featured player didn’t log significant time in the major leagues until his 2007 season with the Marlins.
Lee Gardner was a 6’, 219 lb. right-handed pitcher from Hartland, MI. Born on January 16th, 1975, he attended Central Michigan University, graduating with the class of 1998 and soon thereafter signing with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as an amateur free agent.
Gardner spent most of the next six seasons in the Rays’ minor league feeder system, and didn’t get to the parent club until 2002, at the age of 27. In 12 major league games that year, he posted a 1-1 record with a 4.05 ERA, a 1.500 WHIP, and eight strikeouts in 13.1 innings. Despite his relative success, he didn’t return to the Rays in 2003, spending it instead back at the triple-A level with the Durham Bulls in the International League.
Granted free agency following the 2003 campaign, Gardner elected to test his worth on the free agent market, and found a taker in the San Francisco Giants. After a season with the Fresno Grizzlies in the triple-A Pacific Coast League, he returned, again through free agency, to the Rays.
Gardner got into a grand total of five games for the Rays in 2005, where he struck out four in 7.1 innings, and racked up a 4.91 ERA and a 1.909 WHIP. After another free agent contract, this time with the Detroit Tigers in 2006 (spent with the Toledo Mud Hens in the International League), he joined the Marlins.
The 2007 season got started with Gardner on Florida’s major league roster. He was one of six Marlins’ pitchers to appear in over 50 games, finishing the season with 62 appearances. He posted a 3-4 record and a team-leading 1.94 ERA, a team-leading 1.211 WHIP, and 52 strikeouts in 74.1 innings pitched. He only walked 18, finished 20 games, and earned two saves. In 19 of his appearances, he didn’t allow a baserunner, although the club only posted a 21-41 record in games in which he appeared (and a 50-50 record in games where he sat).
On April 8th, Gardner came on in the ninth inning with one out and the bases loaded with the Marlins leading the Philadelphia Phillies, 6-4. He induced a Carlos Ruiz foul pop up and a Michael Bourn strikeout to earn the save, the first of his career. On April 24th, he came into the second inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves, trailing by a 6-4 margin. He allowed three hits over a season-high four innings, allowing no runs and leaving the contest with the Marlins tied at 6 (the Fish eventually lost by an 11-6 final). On August 26th, in a 9-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, he threw three innings of one-hit ball, striking out two.
Gardner played in seven games for the Marlins in 2008, but didn’t find the same level of success, posting a 10.80 ERA and a 2.700 WHIP over 6.2 innings, striking out four and allowing 18 baserunners. He did not rejoin the minor leagues, and hasn’t appeared at any level of organized ball since.
Join us back here tomorrow for the number 86 all-time Marlin, a current member of the team.