Pittsburgh Pirates rookie starting pitcher Gerrit Cole has performed about as well as could be expected in his first MLB season, but the Miami Marlins also have a big, talented righthander just starting what promises to be a successful career.
On Sunday, 20-year-old Jose Fernandez continued his charmed first year, striking out a career-best 13 to backstop the Marlins to a briskly-played 3-2 win in South Florida. Last-place Miami (40-63) won the weekend series at Marlins Park 2-1 over contending Pittsburgh (61-42).
But while the teams are more than 20 games apart in the National League standings, both are 5-5 since the all-star break as Miami’s young roster gets acclimated to MLB competition. Moreover, the Marlins have a better-than-average chance of winning every time NL all-star Fernandez takes the mound. The native of Cuba allowed two runs on five hits over eight innings, frequently flirting with 100 mph and tossing a superb curveball as well.
The 22-year-old Cole was nearly as good, going seven innings while permitting one fewer hit than Fernandez and fanning eight Marlins. His slider was as good as its been since his call-up in early June, and he was in the high 90s with his four-seam fastball. However, it was a 96-mph pitch that Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton hammered over the wall in left-center for the deciding run in the sixth.
Stanton, a frequent subject of trade rumors with the deadline arriving this week, went 2 for 3 on the day and 7 for 9 over the weekend, including a pair of impressive line-drive homers. He walked with in the fourth – one of two issued by Cole – and came around to score on Ed Lucas’ ground-ball single, cutting the Pirates’ lead to 2-1.
Donovan Solano knocked a sacrifice fly to center one batter later, tying the score, but the Marlins only managed one hit the rest of the way – Stanton’s solo shot off the homer-activated moving sculpture more than 400 feet away from home plate. Vin Mazzaro pitched a perfect eighth to complete a solid outing from Pirates pitching.
But Pittsburgh’s offense was mostly stagnant for the second time this weekend; Miami won Friday’s game 2-0 before the Bucs struck back for a 7-4 victory Saturday. Sunday afternoon started well, with Russell Martin drilling an RBI double to left-center and Clint Barmes poking a run-scoring single to put the Pirates up 2-0 in the top of the second.
Garrett Jones hit a two-out single in the fourth and Martin had a leadoff hit in the sixth, the only Pittsburgh hits against Fernandez after the rally. Marlins sidearmer Steve Cichek took over in the ninth and worked around a one-out Neil Walker single to get the save.
Due to the lack of sustained offense from both sides, the game lasted just two hours and 11 minutes. The Pirates have lost three out of four since winning four straight in the middle of their completed 10-game road trip. Depending on St. Louis’ result against Atlanta on Sunday night, the second-place Bucs will be either 1 1/2 or 2 1/2 games behind the NL Central lead.
The Pirates will face the Cardinals on Monday night at PNC Park to begin a potentially pivotal five-game series. Francisco Liriano is set to oppose St. Louis’ Jake Westbrook at 7:05 p.m., as the top two teams in the division match up for the first time since late April.