Bats sputtering vs. starters' changing speeds

Bats sputtering vs. starters' changing speeds

PHILADELPHIA -- Strong outings from Jose Fernandez and Jose Urena in Monday's and Tuesday's games, respectively, masked a Marlins offense that was hitting just .138 (5-for-36) against Phillies starters.

But Miami was exposed in Wednesday's 4-1 loss, as Jeremy Hellickson cruised over eight innings of one-run ball. Wei-Yin Chen turned in Miami's shortest start of the series, lasting just 5 1/3 innings and surrendering all four Phillies runs.

"It felt a lot like the first game, really," manager Don Mattingly said. "Kinda just got handcuffed all night offensively. We'd been able to win two out of three but really hadn't scored that many runs."

The only runs the Marlins have mustered in three games against Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez and Hellickson have come from a pair of solo home runs. Take away those, and they've scattered eight hits that amounted to zero runs over 21 of the 30 innings played through the first three games of the series.

In the nine innings against the Phillies' bullpen, it has been a little better, but they've continued to scrape the bottom of the barrel in search of offense, scoring a run off David Hernandez on Tuesday and three more off Jeanmar Gomez and Brett Oberholtzer in Monday's 3-2 win.

Chris Johnson joined Christian Yelich as the only two Marlins able to cross home against the Phils' starters with his fourth round-tripper of the season in the fifth. Even he called the blast somewhat anomalous, all things considered.

"I just happened to get in a good count, I think," Johnson said. "I don't think he was going to walk me there with a three-run lead. So I got a good pitch to hit and hit it hard."

The ball rocketed off his bat at only a 20-degree launch angle, per Statcast™, and landed in the left-field seats. The Marlins did not score another run or even mount a threat. The only two baserunners after Johnson's home run were a Miguel Rojas single -- immediately erased by a double play -- and Yelich reaching on a ball that sneaked past Tommy Joseph's glove for an E-3.

Franco begins a nice double play

"The guy's got a really good changeup," Johnson added about Hellickson. "It's his best pitch."

Wednesday was hardly the first time Miami's recent offensive regression has been exposed. Despite having won seven of their last nine games, the Marlins have scored more than five runs in three of those contests. Other than one 7-6 victory, Marlins pitchers hadn't allowed more than three runs in a win over the span. In the two losses, they've allowed five runs each.

Velasquez threw less than 50 percent four-seam fastballs for only the second time in his career on Tuesday, using his curve and change at 17 percent each, while adding a slider 7 percent of the time. Nola combined to change up speeds on 36 percent of his pitches on Monday.

While they threw those with success the first two games of the series, Hellickson confounded Marlins hitters even more Wednesday.

"We've really had trouble, it seems like for me, with guys able to change speeds like [Hellickson] and kind of yo-yo us," Mattingly said. "[Adam Wainwright] did it to us the other day -- a lot of slow stuff -- and we just didn't seem to have the game plan that we needed with those guys."

Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.