MIAMI (AP) — Making a start 14 hours after a 5:30 am wakeup for a cross-state charter flight wasn’t a problem for Charlie Morton. His pitches were working too well for him.
Morton threw six strong innings and Avisail Garcia homered and drove in three runs as the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays beat the Miami Marlins 4-0 on Tuesday night.
Morton (4-0) gave up three hits and struck out five while throwing 82 pitches before he was pulled for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh inning.
“My sinker was playing pretty well tonight,” Morton said. “They were pretty aggressive around the zone. They didn’t chase a whole lot, but they were aggressive maybe on pitches that weren’t hitters’ pitches.”
Garcia had a solo homer and two RBI singles for the Rays in the opener of the two-game series against their cross-state interleague rivals. The sparse crowd of 6,306 also featured a contingent of Rays’ fans, whose “Let’s Go Rays” chants increased as Tampa Bay scored its third run on Kevin Kiermaier’s bases loaded walk in the eighth.
Garcia finished the scoring with an infield single with the bases loaded in the ninth.
“A healthy Avi Garcia can beat you in many ways,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Last year, he was battling injuries. But now he is 100% healthy. He hits the infield single to break the game a little bit more right there.”
Garcia got the Rays on the scoreboard with a leadoff home run in the second. His shot measured at 471 feet landed on the corridor above the center-field wall for his seventh of the season.
“I didn’t expect to hit the ball like that,” Garcia said. “I’ve been feeling great since BP. I knew I hit it good. I knew right away it was out - but not that far.”
Garcia doubled the Rays’ lead as he greeted Marlins reliever Nick Anderson with a single that scored Tommy Pham. Anderson inherited two runners from Miami starter Caleb Smith, who didn’t last past the sixth inning for the first time since his opening start on April 1.
Smith (3-1) allowed two runs and four hits, while striking out eight and walking two in 5 1/3 innings. The Marlins lost their sixth straight and ninth in the last 10.
“We just have to keep grinding and eventually things are going to go our way,” Smith said.
Relievers Emilio Pagan, Diego Castillo and Chaz Roe pitched the final three innings for Tampa Bay.
Miami was shut out for the eighth time and threatened only in the third after John Berti reached on a two-out infield single and advanced to third on Brian Anderson’s single. Morton struck out Neil Walker to end the inning.
“We don’t have that one or two guys somewhat in the middle of the order kind of banging for you,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I know guys are getting after it but they’re not measuring to what you’d like.”
INCREASING THE PITCH COUNT:
Daniel Robertson struck out twice and walked once in his three plate appearances against Smith but made the Marlins starter expend his pitch count. Smith threw 26 pitches against Robertson, including a 13-pitch at bat in the fourth. Robertson was the last hitter Smith faced in the sixth as he worked a nine-pitch at bat before reaching on the first of his two walks.
“They had good at bats,” Smith said. “They fouled pitches off and got me out of the game.”
Tampa Bay: Sidelined since opening day, INF Matt Duffy (left hamstring tightness) went 1 for 6 in three recent rehab assignments and is scheduled to play five innings Wednesday at Single-A Charlotte.
Miami: RHP Drew Steckenrider (right elbow inflammation) will visit physician James Andrews for a second opinion on his injury. Steckenrider, who split time between setup reliever and closer for the Marlins last season, was placed on the 60-day injured list last week.
The Rays will go with Ryne Stanek (0-1, 2.57) as their opener in the series finale Wednesday. Stanek has started 10 games in 2019 but has not pitched more than two innings. Jose Urena (1-5, 4.82) will start for the Marlins
More AP MLB coverage: www.apnews.com/MLB and www.twitter.com/AP_Sports