Marlins’ bullpen blows lead after Trevor Rogers’ short outing and Miami has lost 5 of 6

Josh Harrison of the Washington Nationals slides safely into home plate to score a second-inning run on an RBI single by Victor Robles against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images/TNS)
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David Wilson Miami Herald (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Trevor Rogers watched from the dugout as his Miami Marlins finally, after five lifeless innings Tuesday and their worst loss of the season Monday, jumped ahead of the Washington Nationals and tied the starting pitcher to a lead. Adam Duvall cranked a three-run home run off Paolo Espino in the top of the sixth and the Marlins took the lead for the first time in the series, all while relief pitchers started to stir in Miami’s bullpen.

Rogers had thrown only 78 pitches in his first start since appearing in the 2021 MLB All-Star Game on Wednesday, but he stayed behind when the Marlins took the field for the bottom of the sixth. Richard Bleier jogged out of the bullpen, fired his warm-up pitches and then served up the decisive runs in Miami’s 6-3 loss to the Nationals in Washington.

He gave up a double to Nationals catcher Tres Barrera and coughed up a game-tying bloop single to outfielder Yadiel Hernandez with two outs. He hit Washington middle infielder Alcides Escobar with a pitch, then fumed as manager Don Mattingly pulled him from the game and the crowd at Nationals Park booed. Fellow relief pitcher Anthony Bender came in and didn’t fare much better, giving up back-to-back hits to All-Stars Trea Turner and Juan Soto before finally escaping on a hard-hit flyout by Washington corner infielder Ryan Zimmerman.

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The decision to yank Rogers after only five innings — whether it was necessitated by innings limits or fatigue, or made because of a hunch or performance — backfired and the Marlins (40-55) lost for the fifth time in six games since the All-Star break.

Miami is now 15 games below .500 for the first time all season and more than 10 games out of first place in the National League East with 10 days until the trade deadline, and won’t even have Sandy Alcantara to give the ball to Wednesday. The Marlins placed the starting pitcher on the bereavement list Monday, leaving them with only one pitcher left from its projected starting rotation in the preseason.

Rogers, 23, is the last man standing. Sixto Sanchez hasn’t pitched all year because year because of a shoulder injury and won’t pitch at all in 2021. Pitcher Elieser Hernandez has made two starts this season because of a pair of injuries and has been out since June with a severe quadriceps strain. Starting pitcher Pablo Lopez, one third of Miami’s so-called “Big 3,” landed on the 10-day IL with a right rotator cuff strain Saturday, and Alcantara, another third, left the team Tuesday and will have to remain out for at least three days.

Rogers is the unlikely piece of the “Big 3.” He looked more like a No. 5 starter at the beginning of the season and was only the second most heralded rookie on the staff, behind Sanchez. Instead, he posted a 2.31 ERA in the first half, emerged as a frontrunner for an MLB Rookie of the Year Award, got invited to the MLB All-Star Game and became, at worst, one of three de facto co-aces.

His last four starts before the break, though, made up the worst stretch of his season. He gave up nine earned runs in 19 2/3 innings and his ERA swelled from 1.87 to 2.31. He got 10 days off between starts — although he did pitch an inning in the All-Star Game on Wednesday — and hoped to come out of the break reinvigorated.

For five innings, he gave Miami a chance. He worked around a two-out walk by Soto in the first and limited the damage to one run in the second after a leadoff double by Nationals utility man Josh Harrison. He worked around another two-out walk by Soto in the third and survived a two-out double by Barrera in the fourth before giving up another run in the fifth, then exiting. He mixed his three pitches well — throwing fastball, changeup and slider each at least 20 percent of the time — and scattered five hits and three walks with three strikeouts to leave with the lead.

He threw his fewest pitches since May, though, and Washington (45-49) pounced on the bullpen. Bleier (2-1) gave up three earned runs and every other relief pitcher Miami used gave up at least one baserunner. The Marlins had two hits in their three-run six and only four the rest of the game.

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