MIAMI — It felt inevitable, once the game began at 1:10 p.m. Sunday, that the creeping shadows would cut through the field and create tough visuals for hitters.
Marlins Park has a retractable roof, and the Miami Marlins are aiming to open it whenever possible this season. The logic is that it’s better for the fan experience — weather permitting — and gives the stadium more character in its eighth year of existence. The aesthetics are much better when the roof is open on a sunny day. It’s hard to argue with that.
But players are not happy with the decision to open it during day games, and the issue has come up on two Sundays already this season. After this Sunday’s game, a 5-0 win for the Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Eaton expressed frustration with the conditions.
“It’s a health thing. [Nationals right-hander Max] Scherzer got hit in the dugout because you can’t even see the pitch when you’re on deck or in the dugout,” Eaton said. "I just don’t see how that’s a good idea. You heard through the grapevine that they did it last Sunday and players were kind of against it, and like I said, I think it’s more of a safety thing than anything else. You saw a lot of swing and misses today, kind of a sense of not seeing the ball well.
“I think we ran into a few. Maybe their night vision is better than mine. But we really feel like it is a safety issue more than anything. Somebody is going to hang their nose out on a curveball that doesn’t break and not be able to see it because you can’t pick up spin. Great day for [Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg], and the boys really played well. But I think it’s kind of crazy how it went about with that roof.”
Scherzer lunged out of the way of a sizzling foul ball from Lewis Brinson in the eighth inning. He tweaked the intercostal muscle in his left rib cage but expects to be fine in a day or two. Scherzer is scheduled to start next against the San Diego Padres in Washington on Friday after giving up seven runs (six earned) in a loss to the Marlins on Saturday. The Nationals wound up hitting well to avoid a sweep Sunday, with Zimmerman smacking two home runs and Brian Dozier adding another in the seventh.
But Zimmerman still echoed Eaton’s thoughts on the roof with his own sarcastic twist.
“It’s an enormous factor. It’s awful. I mean, I don’t understand why you would play a game like that if you don’t have to," Zimmerman said. "But I hope the fans enjoyed the open-air experience. It was great for us. Awesome.”
The Nationals’ 34-year-old first baseman first noted that the “visuals weren’t great” against Marlins starter Trevor Richards. The shadows settled between the mound and home plate by the third inning, and Richards knifed through Washington’s order aside from Zimmerman’s homer in the fourth. Strasburg finished eight scoreless innings and gave up just two hits — the first coming before home plate was totally shaded — and struck out 11. Strasburg did not attribute any of his success to the open roof, saying: “I don’t even worry about the shadows. I got to make pitches.”
Yet the hitters had to focus on them. Zimmerman thought it got better as the game went on and both the mound and home plate were in the shade. Eaton, however, still felt that a sunlit batter’s eye — the grassy backdrop beyond the center field wall — made it hard to see pitches in the shade.
“It’s like you are standing in a closet about 10 feet deep and then someone throwing a baseball in there,” Eaton said. “You see it, and then all of a sudden it disappears. And then when it’s completely dark, and once the hitter’s eye starts to lighten up, it really gets scary. You have a light hitter’s eye, and the ball is dark when it comes through all the way to you, so it makes it worse. It went through all the phases of not being able to see the baseball.”
Eaton called reporters over after the game to specifically discuss this, hoping players could help change protocol moving forward. He didn’t know whether it was something the MLB Players Association would get involved in. He, like Zimmerman, just wants to play with the roof closed the next time the Nationals visit Marlins Park for a day game.
That will be on Sept. 22, a contest schedule for 1:10 p.m. in Miami. Zimmerman smiled at the suggestion that starting the game later could help. He already had a simpler solution in mind.
“Or just close the roof," he said. "They have a chance to completely not have to worry about it. I’ve never played a day game here with the roof open. So that would be the easiest assumption.”
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