It’s been a crazy year for baseball in Florida.
The Tampa Bay Rays and the host Miami Marlins, who will meet again on Saturday night, have so far overcome heaps of adversity.
Miami is in second place in the National League East despite sporting a 1-6 home record. The Marlins are an impressive 13-7 on the road during an odd year in which they played just three games before being sidelined by the news that 18 of their players tested positive for COVID-19.
The Marlins, who still don’t have all their players back from the COVID-19 list, have already made more than 100 roster moves, a franchise record just 27 games into the season.
Meanwhile, the Rays, who beat the Marlins 2-0 on Friday in the series opener, have been hard hit by injuries to their pitching staff, including two starters and five relievers.
A third starter, Ryan Yarbrough, left Friday’s game due to a groin injury.
“This was my biggest fear when we hit the pause button in spring training,” Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. “I knew that if and when we came back (after the COVID-19 pause), there was going to be an injury impact, and it’s been pretty significant.”
However, even with all the issues both teams have faced — the Marlins are still missing starting pitchers Jose Urena, Caleb Smith and Sandy Alcantara, all on the COVID-19 list — the pitching has been pretty good, and that was reflected in Friday’s game.
On Saturday, Miami will start right-hander Pablo Lopez (3-1, 1.98 ERA). Tampa Bay will start rookie left-hander Josh Fleming (1-0, 3.60 ERA).
Lopez has allowed two earned runs or fewer in all five of his starts this season. Batters are hitting just .222 against Lopez’s fastball and only .210 versus his changeup.
In fact, his changeup is his most frequently used pitch, serving it up 29.3 percent of the time.
Lopez has made just one career appearance against Tampa Bay, sporting a 1-0 record and a 1.50 ERA over six innings. He allowed just two hits and one walk in that start, striking out six and serving as yet another example of the pitching depth Miami has created.
“We’re now able to throw a quality starter at you every night,” manager Don Mattingly said of his Marlins, who will get Alcantara back on Sunday. “We just have to make sure we schedule it properly.”
Fleming, set to make just the second start and appearance of his major league career, beat the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, allowing four hits, two walks and two runs in five innings.
“I’m kind of on Cloud Nine,” Fleming said after striking out three in that game.
The Rays, who lead the American League East despite all their injuries, are on a 16-3 roll. They’ve done all that winning with impressive depth — Fleming is the 11th starting pitcher Tampa Bay has used this season.
During Friday’s game, Tampa Bay acquired lefty reliever Cody Reed (0-1, 5.79 ERA) from the Cincinnati Reds.
However, Rays catcher Mike Zunino was scratched from the Friday contest due to tightness in his left oblique. Zunino is hitting just .133 this season, but he has four homers and nine RBIs in 23 games.
Second baseman Brandon Lowe leads Tampa Bay with 27 RBIs.
Miami got a key player back on Friday as corner outfielder Garrett Cooper returned from the COVID-19 list. Cooper went 2-for-4 as the designated hitter on Friday and is batting .364 on the season (just 11 at-bats).
First baseman Jesus Aguilar leads Miami with 20 RBIs.
–Field Level Media