MIAMI — Tom Koehler and Brad Hand battled all spring for the right to become the Miami Marlins’ fifth starter.
Friday night, the pair might have established themselves as 5A and 5B.
Koehler and Hand teamed up for a solid effort against the San Diego Padres in Miami’s 8-2 win Friday night, limiting opponents to seven hits. Outside of the two runs allowed in the sixth inning, Padres baserunners advanced beyond first base just three times.
"I talked about it in spring training, and at the beginning at the season, having those guys down there, having [Kevin] Slowey, who can throw multiple innings, and Brad Hand, who has been a starter as well, and be able to throw multiple innings, too. Today was a great example of that, to get through a game with just two guys."
Of course, it helped that the Marlins grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Giancarlo Stanton’s monster home run.
"He absolutely crushed that ball," Koehler said. "I’ve seen him hit balls further. It’s nice to get that lead and it’s even better to get back in the dugout as fast as possible so they could add back on."
Miami tacked on three more runs in the third and two more in the fifth.
"At that point, I was trying to get outs as quick as possible," Koehler said. "I’m trying to get the team back in the dugout as quick as possible so they can keep adding on, and keep the momentum."
By the time Koehler had reached the fifth inning, he had allowed just two hits and tossed 38 strikes on 54 pitches. But that’s when he lost the strike zone. And when he rediscovered it, San Diego’s Jedd Gyorko, Chris Denorfia and Yasmani Grandal each ripped consecutive singles up the middle to load the bases with one out.
"At times in the past, that’s kind of where you see it spiral out of control," Koehler said. "So to get out of that, get the team back in the dugout, it was a big pick-me-up for me and I am sure for the guys."
"We couldn’t just give in and start throwing balls over the middle of the plate," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "We were recognizing that they were hitting good pitches and so we had to do what we had to do and make good pitches back."
Koehler got out of the jam by getting pinch hitter Tommy Medica to fly out, then registered the final out of the inning by covering first on Everth Cabrera’s grounder up the first-base line.
The Bronx native pitched shutout ball until the sixth inning, when Yonder Alonso’s double to right field scored Seth Smith. A batter later, Gyorko’s single added another run to the Padres’ tally.
"Koehler was throwing great, kind of ran out of gas there in the last inning," Saltalamacchia said. "But he pitched a great game, kept us in there and then Hand came on and did his job."
Hand breezed through the seventh and eighth with a walk as his only blemish. He walked two of his first three batters in the ninth but ultimately finished with a rare three-inning save.
"To have Brad come in and throw three innings is big for our bullpen," Redmond said. "It’s nice to not have to rely on the same guys every single night when you’re winning a ball game. Brad has done a great job pounding the strike zone and has pitched some big innings for us so far."
It may not be the role Hand set out to fill during spring training, but its proven more than valuable to the Marlins, who sit atop the National League East with a 4-1 record with a steady rotation and well-rested bullpen.
"Pitchers are kind of feeding off each other," Redmond said. "We had a nice turn through the rotation and Jose will go at them tomorrow and we’ll see if we can keep this thing going."