ATLANTA – Marlins starter Pablo López insisted he wasn’t trying to plunk Ronald Acuña Jr. The umpiring crew didn’t agree.
López was ejected after hitting Acuña with his very first pitch, leading to the only run as the Atlanta Braves edged Miami 1-0 Friday night.
“We all know Acuña is a superstar," López said. “We all know the things he does. You also don’t want to put him on base because he’s a guy that can steal 40-50 bases a year."
“But that was just a poorly executed sinker,” he said. "The ball just ran instead of sinking, and unfortunately hit him and that’s not what I want."
The Marlins have a history of hitting Acuña — this was the sixth time overall. Miami pitcher José Ureña was tossed after nailing him with his first pitch in Acuña's rookie year of 2018 and López didn't last any longer.
López was ejected for nailing Acuña in the back of the left arm and manager Don Mattingly soon was tossed, too, for arguing on his pitcher’s behalf. They stayed on the field for a couple of minutes to plead their case with umpires.
“It wasn’t on purpose," Mattingly said. “We have zero issues with the Braves. We have zero issues with these guys. This is a past thing that happened three years ago."
Acuña said he wasn't sure if the Marlins were trying to hit him again or not.
“I don't know, to be honest, just because of how many times it's happened," Acuña said through a translator. “Whether it was or whether it wasn't doesn't matter to me. My primary purpose and focus is that the team won."
Acuña has been hit five times in 52 regular-season games against the Marlins, including three times with their first pitch of the day. He also got hit in a playoff game against Miami last year.
This time, Acuña advanced to third on Freddie Freeman’s single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ozzie Albies, the NL leader with 59 RBIs.
Miami pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. was tossed by crew chief Dan Iassogna for arguing about López’s ejection after Freeman's hit.
Iassogna defended his decisions on the ejections.
“I think if you followed baseball at all, you understand that there’s history between this team and Acuña specifically, but there was no heads up in place, no formal heads up in place for us prior to this game," Iassogna said. “And understand this is one of the other things that we’re tasked to do is to keep control of the game.
“And we felt, and I felt, that by ejecting the pitcher rather than putting a warning out, that would absolutely stop any retaliation or continuing to really start a beanball war throughout the game. And so we made the decision to eject. I ejected him, and we did not have a beanball war. Tonight, we had one ejection. We had one hit batter and we had an ejection.”
López didn't think his ejection was warranted.
“It was pretty confusing," López said. “You could tell by how Donnie and Mel came out of the dugout. They were pretty shocked by it, too. It was just, I don’t know. Like I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know what to do. It just caught me by surprise. It stings.”
Atlanta got just two hits and still won its third in a row.
Drew Smyly won his career-best fourth straight start for the three-time defending NL East champion Braves, who improved to 40-41.
The game featured little offense as the Marlins managed four hits. Miami pitchers combined to retire 18 straight batters through the sixth before Albies reached on an infield single to begin the seventh.
Ross Detwiler faced 10 batters in three innings in place of López (4-5), who threw only one pitch and was charged with the loss. Anthony Bender struck out the side in the fourth and fifth.
Smyly (6-3) gave up three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. He escaped a jam with runners on first and third in the fourth when Miguel Rojas grounded into a double play.
Jesús Aguilar touched Smyly for a single in the second and another in the fourth. Smyly was done after Garrett Cooper singled in the sixth, and Luke Jackson entered to end a threat with runners on first and second when Aguilar flied out.
A.J. Minter, the second Atlanta pitcher of the seventh, balked Miguel Rojas to second, but he escaped the jam when Rojas was tagged out rounding third on an infield single. Chris Martin picked off Starling Marte after walking him in the eighth.
Braves closer Will Smith pitched in the ninth to convert a shaky 17th save in 19 chances. The bases were loaded when Jon Berti popped up and pinch-hitter Sandy León flied out to end it.
Marlins: SS José Devers, sidelined with right shoulder impingement since mid-June, will begin a rehab assignment Saturday with Triple-A Jacksonville.
Braves: C Travis d’Arnaud (left thumb sprain) is wearing a removable cast and “is right where he should be right now,” manager Brian Snitker said. He’s doing the workouts, hitting one-handed and throwing. “It’s getting stronger by the day, I think that’s the biggest thing,” Snitker added. D’Arnaud is not expected back until next month.
Miami is switching spots for RHP Sandy Alcantara (4-7, 3.12 ERA) and RHP Zach Thompson with Alcantara pitching Saturday and Thompson on Sunday. Thompson was originally slated as Friday’s starter, but López got pushed back by Thursday’s rainout in Philadelphia.
LHP Kyle Muller (1-1, 2.70) will pitch Saturday for Atlanta with Charlie Morton going Sunday.