Miguel Rojas hammered a pitch to the back row of the left-field stands against Zack Wheeler in the first inning on Wednesday night to give the Marlins a lead. Meanwhile, Jarlin García was looking sharp in his MLB starting debut. With a few more insurance runs (against either Wheeler or a heavily worked Mets bullpen), this had the potential to be a rare wire-to-wire win for Don Mattingly’s struggling squad.
However, Wheeler settled down quickly, and these division rivals found themselves locked in a pitchers’ duel.
That meant a busy and stressful night for Mattingly. There is no obvious formula for navigating high-leverage situations with players who would be considered Triple-A depth in many other organizations.
Mattingly felt grateful to have that 1-0 advantage intact through the middle innings, but look closely at the play-by-play summary of García’s outing:
Marlins Jarlin García thru 6.0 IP: 5-3➡️6-3➡️F7➡️E5➡️DP➡️K➡️6-3➡️3U➡️K➡️2-3➡️5-3➡️F8➡️F8➡️BB➡️BB➡️CS➡️6-4 FO➡️F9➡️K➡️F6 #JuntosMiami— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) April 12, 2018
Zero hits allowed in there.
García had been increasingly falling behind in the count as the game progressed. The 25-year-old was not accustomed to working into the seventh inning of a start—his most recent experience with that came with Class A Advanced Jupiter in 2015.
So although the majority of the Fish Stripes audience disagrees, Mattingly considered it a “pretty easy” decision to turn the game over to the Marlins bullpen.
“[García] did his job, and to send him back out there wasn’t going to be the best thing for him,” he said. “At that point, in my mind, not the best thing for us.”
Mattingly was “managing to win” the game, opting to bring in fresh arms with more swing-and-miss ability, rather than letting García chase a personal milestone. Without even accounting for the unique challenges of this case, analysis from Zachary Levine of Baseball Prospectus shows that only about 10 percent of all MLB teams who hold their opponent hitless through sixth innings complete the no-hitter.
Ultimately, the Marlins blew the lead anyway. Chris O’Grady couldn’t handle New York’s left-handed batters in the eighth and old friend AJ Ramos sealed the game for the Mets. They will head into the weekend at 3-9 overall with a minus-35 run differential (worst in the majors).
But so what if O’Grady did wiggle out of the jam, and the Fish improved to 4-8? Would that change their trajectory for 2018?
No. This franchise has serious aspirations of contending in the future, but no illusions of doing so right now. The talent simply isn’t here yet.
Which is why it’s worth wondering whether Mattingly needs to adapt. Unlike previous years, he’s being evaluated largely on player development and clubhouse management (instead of team record).
Should the Marlins’ young building blocks receive more opportunities to test their limits, results be damned? If fans cherish anything from this season, it will be the standout performances, not whether they finish with 63 or 64 wins.
Let us know how you’d prefer to see Mattingly handle similar situations moving forward.