Nathan Eovaldi’s return to form a welcome sight for Marlins rotation

MIAMI — The radar gun flashed 98 mph on the first pitch from Miami Marlins right-hander Nathan Eovaldi Saturday night. By the end of the inning, he had hit triple digits.

Vintage Eovaldi returned in the Marlins’ 2-1 walk-off victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park.

Eovaldi pitched seven-plus innings, scattering two hits with six strikeouts and two walks for a no decision. The run he gave up was an inherited one righty Bryan Morris allowed with two outs in the eighth on Billy Hamilton’s blooper to left.

His six strikeouts were the most since fanning eight batters June 6 in Chicago against the Cubs — a span of nine starts. Of those six, four came on his slider and one apiece on the fastball and curveball. He won for the first time since June 23.

After a two-out single by Skip Schumaker in the second, Eovaldi didn’t permit a hit until a leadoff single by Ramon Santiago in the eighth. He had retired 11 in a row until that point.

"Me and (pitching coach) Chuck (Hernandez) worked with a few things in the bullpen mechanically wise that helped out a lot," Eovaldi said. "It helped with all my offspeed pitches. I felt they were a lot more consistent tonight being sharp. I was able to work ahead in counts and threw all my offspeed pitches over the plate for strikes and good swing-miss pitches."

"I didn’t feel like I wasn’t getting good extension (before). I felt I was being short with the ball, so we just tried to stride it out. It keeps me on line more and get that good extension."

According to Gametracker, which keeps tabs on the game, the flamethrower threw one pitch 100 mph, 12 at 99 mph and another 26 at 98 mph. Five pitches went unaccounted for during a Jay Bruce at-bat in the sixth.

Marlins vs. Reds

The 24-year-old entered Saturday with the fourth-fastest velocity in the majors at 95.3 mph. After using his fastball 64 percent of the time in April when he posted a 2.58 ERA, it dipped to 60 percent by July (6.75 ERA) according to Brooks Baseball.

"He was aggressive in the strike zone, he threw a lot more fastballs than he has in his last few starts and he was sharp," manager Mike Redmond said. "You could tell he was a man on a mission. He carved through their lineup pretty good. He got to the elusive eighth inning for us, and you know we just weren’t able to get through there and get him a win. But you saw the effort and it definitely came at a perfect time. Hopefully he can keep it going from here on out.

"That’s him. He’s a fastball pitcher and that’s his strength. Sometimes we get focused on other pitches and executing breaking balls on certain counts and then we lose track of our strengths, which for him is his fastball. I think he realized again tonight what his strength is and he executed that strength pretty well."

Added catcher Jeff Mathis: "Just locating his heater. It was obviously coming out really good tonight. He had life on his heater. When he did get ahead he was putting guys away. It’s fun to be back there with him tonight."

Following the leadoff single by Santiago in the eighth, Redmond went with Morris. Eovaldi wanted to stay in the game having thrown just 97 pitches (68 strikes). Zack Cozart moved Santiago over with a bunt before pinch-hitter Jack Hannahan struck out swinging. Hamilton’s two-strike swing evened the game at 1.

Since pitching seven innings of one-run ball in Arizona prior to the All-Star break, Eovaldi had posted a 0-2 record and 9.92 ERA in three starts. Over 16 1/3 innings, he had surrendered 18 runs.

Redmond called Eovaldi a man on a mission looking to dominate on the mound. Prior to Friday’s game, righty Henderson Alvarez landed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Eovaldi, considered the No. 1 starter as soon as Jose Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery, got back on track at the right time.

"That’s the same like when Jose got hurt," Eovaldi said. "We’re all going to keep doing what they’ve been doing and everybody’s going to keep pitching the way they’ve been pitching. Everybody’s been pitching well. I was glad I was able to throw well tonight. I haven’t been throwing as well. It was good for me to come out and throw the way I did."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.