Marlins Drop Opening Day Against Pirates in Extra Innings, 6-5

Marlins Pirates Opening Day

Photo by Chris Perez

Miami, FL – Spring Training has come and gone and one of the most exciting times of the year has returned: Opening Day. The buzz in the stadium, the clean-cut grass, the rosters being announced, the jets flying over, all the ingredients to give any baseball fan chills. The Miami Marlins are hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates for a four-game series to kick off the 2024 campaign and it did not start on the right foot. The Pirates rallied back from trailing 5-2 in the late innings and tied up the game to go to extra innings. After securing a 6-5 lead in the 12th inning, Jesus Luzardo’s solid outing seemed like it occurred in a previous game. After a bullpen collapse, the Marlins are 0-1 in 2024 but the good news is there are 161 games left, no need to panic. Here is a breakdown of the loss.

Local Kid Shines on the Mound

With Sandy Alcantara sidelined for all of 2024 (Tommy John Surgery), Jesus Luzardo got the nod as the Opening Day starter and is Miami’s defacto ace for this year. He is a Parkland, FL native and grew up watching the Marlins back when they were still called the “Florida Marlins”. Luzardo starting on Opening Day is definitely a full-circle moment and has grown each year in the majors poised to take this next leap as the team’s number-one pitcher in the starting rotation. He looked that way today racking up eight strikeouts in just five innings of work. The southpaw was just one strikeout from tying the team’s Opening Day record set by Josh Beckett and Jose Fernandez.

Luzardo’s lone blemish of the evening was in the top of third. With the Marlins leading early on 2-0, Bryan Reynolds tied up the ball game with one swing after homering to left field. Luzardo buckled down after surrendering those runs and retired the next eight batters to close out his outing. Control seemed to be an issue for Luzardo. He issued two walks in his five innings with one of them scoring on Reynolds’ home run. The Pirates worked deep counts and with Luzardo’s pitch count at 85 after five innings, manager Skip Schumaker decided that was enough for today with a long season ahead.

Overall, an extra inning out of Luzardo would have been nice but it’s easy to understand Skip’s logic. Miami needs Luzardo to stay healthy and it does not make any sense to overwork him when Miami is decimated by injuries in their pitching staff. If he can continue these types of performances, and go a bit deeper into games, then Miami has another ace up their sleeve.

Strong Offense Early On

In 2023, the Miami Marlins scored five or more runs in only 62 games. Pitching was clearly the team’s strength as they clawed their way into the postseason with the worst statistical offense out of all the playoff teams in both leagues. After acquiring Jake Burger and Josh Bell via trade in the middle of last season, a full year of both players on the roster will be extremely valuable after Jorge Soler signed with the Giants. Those two players and hopefully Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Avisail Garcia can stay healthy as they are all being relied on to provide the thump in the lineup.

The Marlins did not wait to put some runs up on the board against Pittsburgh. In the bottom of the second, Chisholm Jr. led off the inning with a 10-pitch walk. Burger followed up with a single up the middle to give Miami runners on first and third with no outs. Jesus Sanchez grounded into a fielder’s choice to bring in Jazz for a 1-0 lead.

Tim Anderson, the lone MLB offseason signing for Miami, came through for his new team. The shortstop lined a double down the right-field line to bring in Burger and the Marlins led 2-0. After the Pirates tied up the game in the top of the third, Miami responded in the bottom half of the frame.

I’ll Order the Burger Combo, Please

Josh Bell led off the bottom of the third with a single but was called out at second after Bryan De la Cruz grounded into a fielder’s choice. Chisholm Jr. advanced De la Cruz to third after doubling to right-center field. With two runners in scoring position, Jake Burger was next to bat and he doubled the Marlins’ lead with one swing. Burger singled to left field to bring in De la Cruz and Jazz. It was an encouraging sight to see Miami produce with runners on board, an Achilles heel of the team for the last few seasons.

Jake Burger padded his Opening Day performance with a sac fly in the bottom of the fifth to give him three RBIs and Miami a 5-2 lead. The Marlins handed the game off to their bullpen after the offense regained the lead and Luzardo kept Pittsburgh in check giving up two runs on just two hits.

Pirates Start to Plunder

Using six arms out of the bullpen was not how Skip envisioned this Opening Day would go. In the sixth inning, George Soriano only recorded one out and left the game with the bases loaded for Andrew Nardi to clean up the mess. The southpaw reliever did just that and came into the game and struck out Oneil Cruz and Jared Triolo looking.

Skip rode the hot hand and gave Nardi the seventh inning. His outing soured quickly as pinch hitter Edward Olivares greeted him with a solo home run to cut into Miami’s lead, 5-3. Michael A. Taylor followed up with a single and Nardi’s night was over. Anthony Bender was Miami’s new pitcher and he was making his first pitching appearance since 2022.

Bender recorded the first out of the inning but then surrendered a ground-rule double to Bryan Reynolds. Ke’Bryan Hayes walked to load the bases. Pirates legend and 16-year MLB veteran, Andrew McCutchen, grounded into a fielder’s choice for an RBI, but Bender was able to limit the damage to just that.

Welcome Back… Sixto Sanchez?

Entering the top of the 8th leading 5-4, Miami went with a surprising name to secure a hold. Enter… Sixto Sanchez? Four years ago it seemed like Sanchez was going to pair with Sandy as a 1-2 punch in the rotation. Sanchez was acquired via trade with the Phillies with Miami sending over catcher J.T. Realmuto in return. At the time, Sixto was Philadelphia’s top prospect and his player comparison was Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez. 2020 was the last time we ever saw him on a mound for an MLB game. Sixto dazzled in the covid season helping Miami reach the playoffs. He even recorded a win against the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card series.

Now, in 2024, Sixto is back after years of battling injuries and setbacks. Many said he would never grace the mound of an MLB game ever again but the young right-hander proved all the naysayers wrong. The comeback was complete but did not have a happy ending as many would have liked to see. In his first MLB game in four years and for the first time pitching in front of fans in an MLB game, Oniel Cruz was the first batter he faced. Cruz welcomed Sixto back with a solo home run to right field and in an instant, the possible “feel good” moment for Sixo evaporated. He did retire the next three batters to end the inning but the more concerning issue was the Marlins’ bullpen surrendering the lead.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Meet Mr. Cronin

After Tanner Scott pitched a scoreless ninth inning, the Marlins and Pirates entered extra innings tied 5-5. Skip went with Marlins newcomer, Declan Cronin. The Marlins picked up Cronin after the Chicago Whitesox designated him for assignment.

The 26-year-old right-hander shocked many and stepped up for Miami in a huge way. Already burning through five relievers Skip let Cronin go for an extended outing pitching three innings out of the bullpen. In the top of the 12th, Cronin recorded the first two outs and then intentionally walked Oneil Cruz. Jared Triolo was the next batter and he gave the Pirates a 6-5 lead with an RBI single to right field. The runner that scored does not count for Cronin’s record since it was a placed runner but his heroic effort on the mound resulted in receiving the loss.

It was not the ideal way the Marlins wanted to start their season. They had the right formula to get the win entering the late innings. The offense took control and regained the lead while the starting pitching held its own. It is way too early to hit the panic button, the bullpen will have plenty of time to make adjustments with each pitcher finding their role. Miami still has a chance to win the series with three more games left to play, but one thing is for sure is that the Miami Marlins will not be undefeated in 2024.

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