MIAMI — Any momentum the Miami Marlins tried carrying over from last night’s walk-off victory quickly evaporated during Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi opened the game by inducing two quick outs before the Rangers collected three runs on four straight hits.
The hardest hit ball — J.P. Arencibia’s RBI double to left — brought two runners home, the second on a fielding error by Adeiny Hechavarria on the cutoff. Adrian Beltre raced home as the ball got away from him.
A five-run deficit before going to the plate is tough for any offense, even one facing the worst pitching staff (in terms of ERA) and club in the American League.
In the second, Eovaldi walked Elvis Andrus with a man on first and two outs. Alex Rios followed by sending a ball to shallow right field that dropped in front of a sliding Giancarlo Stanton near the foul line. Both runners raced home.
"Really just off-speed," Eovaldi said. "I was leaving the fastball up in the zone. I couldn’t get that slider to get that really good bite to it. Runners on first and second, I left that fastball up for Arencibia and he crushed it. It’s tough for us to come back after 5-0 first two innings. We were right there knocking on the door at the end."
Big innings have haunted Eovaldi in 2014. Since his June 13 outing, he has given up three runs in an inning twice and four runs in an inning five times. Miami has lost all but one of those games.
Eovaldi points to not only his off-speed pitches but also his fastball command as the problem. By falling behind in counts, he is setting hitters up for success. Entering Wednesday, batters posted a .312 mark ahead in the count against him.
Another situation plaguing him is two-out runs, which was the case in all five produced by the Rangers. Eovaldi has now allowed 31 on the year, 40 percent of the total amount he has given up.
"Too many runs early," manager Mike Redmond said. "This day game, 12:40 start, we’ve got to come out of the chute and throw zeroes and give our offense a chance to get going. To give up those five runs in two innings, that can’t happen. We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve talked about with Nate — the big innings. He’s had big innings and they’ve cost us and it cost us. Having gotten through those innings earlier with zeroes maybe we would’ve won that game.
"We didn’t play great defensively either. You can’t put it all on him. We gave them some extra chances, extra opportunities. We made a couple of errors that cost him too."
After two solid starts (one earned run over 15 innings) against the Cincinnati Reds to begin this month, Eovaldi has scuffled despite the adjustments to his stride.
Last week against the St. Louis Cardinals, he gave up four runs (two earned) on eight hits in six innings. On Wednesday, he surrendered five runs (four earned) on nine hits over five innings with a walk and four strikeouts. He threw just 81 pitches — 52 for strikes.
Over his past 15 starts since June 1, the Marlins are 4-11. The 24-year-old has won just once during that span — June 23 against the Philadelphia Phillies. His ERA has jumped from 3.24 to 4.06.
"It’s just inconsistency. It really is that simple," Redmond said. "Today it was coming out of his hand good but just a little bit up at times and a little bit off the plate. Looked like he just missed with some pitches and they were able to square a couple pitches up and that ended up being the difference. It’s just a matter as he continues to mature as a pitcher and figure it all out is just limiting that inning. It just seems to be that one inning. That’s unfortunately part of the learning process."
On a young team, it’s a common theme. Eovaldi is not alone in that respect.
Those surrounding him — from starting outfielders Marcell Ozuna to Christian Yelich to fellow members in the rotation — are experiencing their first full seasons in the majors in the midst of a postseason hunt.
With the loss, Miami dropped back to .500 before leaving on a three-city, nine-game trip that begins Friday in Colorado.
"You’re not going to win every game, and we’re not going to lose every game, obviously," Stanton said. "That’s how baseball is. You can’t praise everyone when you win and hate on everyone when you lose. You’ve just got to stay even keel and understand why we lost and learn from it.
"There’s the younger side of us which is why we’ve been so up and down throughout the season. The difference is you get these months under you and a few guys are in their second year and the long season and how the ups and downs really change and make you better as a player."