MIAMI — A three-run first inning by the visitors during April and May very well might have presented the home team with an insurmountable challenge at Marlins Park.
Not these days.
Minnesota scored three runs off Tom Koehler before Miami came to bat on Wednesday afternoon, but the Marlins rallied for a 5-3 win.
The victory guaranteed a winning June (13-9) for the Fish, who were 14-41 through the season’s first two months. Miami will end the month with three weekend games against San Diego.
Instead of being tagged with a loss, Koehler escaped with a no-decision thanks largely to two blasts from unlikely sources. Jeff Mathis slugged a two-run homer in the fifth, and Placido Polanco belted a game-winning two-run shot in the sixth.
“Winning changes a lot of things,” Koehler said. “Earlier in the year, we were down three and would score two and lose that game by one run. Right now, guys are playing with a lot of confidence and having fun.”
The returns of Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison from injuries certainly have helped fuel what had been an anemic offense. But make no mistake, the Marlins pitching staff generally has performed well all year and especially recently.
Miami pitchers have surrendered three runs or less in 10 straight games, one shy of the team record set July 28-Aug. 9, 2003.
Early Wednesday, it appeared the Marlins’ streak would be ending before the Twins made three outs.
“Tom’s first inning was rough. He was battling — trying to get the ball in the strike zone and walked a couple of guys – but he was able to get out of it,” manager Mike Redmond said. “I told him after him after the first inning, ‘Hey man, just hang in there. Give us a chance. That’s all they get.’ And he did that.
“Kevin Slowey backed him up and gave us some innings as well. And once we get to the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, I feel pretty good about the guys we’re running out there.”
Mike Dunn pitched a perfect eighth and Steve Cishek a 1-2-3 ninth to nail down the Marlins’ third straight win and fifth in six games.
The latest performance left the Miami ranked eighth in the National League in pitching with a 3.93 ERA. They finished last season ranked 12th with a 4.09 ERA.
Not only do the statistics show improvement, the rotation includes several pitchers who could be long-term contributors.
Rookie Jose Fernandez (4-4, 2.98) already has supplanted veteran Ricky Nolasco (4-7, 3.68) as the staff ace.
Jacob Turner (1-0, 1.97), acquired from Detroit last season, has been lights out since being promoted following a “finding himself” trip to the minors. Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 3.00) has made only two starts since returning from a shoulder injury but figures to be a fixture if healthy.
Miami’s bullpen also has responded lately, going 7-4 in June after an 0-6 May.
At the back end, Cishek earned his 14th save in 16 opportunities. He has converted eight of nine save chances and given up only one run during June.
Through April and May, Cishek went 1-4 with a combined six save chances and 11 earned runs allowed.
“Early in the season, we just needed him to get some innings,” Redmond said. “We weren’t getting in enough save situations and we need him to continue to pitch and develop.”