May 19, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins manager Skip Schumaker (45) visits starting pitcher Sixto Sánchez (18) in the second inning against the New York Mets at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Despite his reputation for defending his players, Miami Marlins manager Skip Schumaker couldn’t ignore his starter’s disastrous first inning on Sunday. Schumaker, who will almost certainly not be returning next year after the team’s disastrous start, pulled no punches when discussing Sixto Sánchez’s latest clunker. That came following a 7-3 loss to the New York Mets Sunday that dropped them to 15-33 on the year.

Sánchez’s outing over the weekend was a tale of two starts.

The 25-year-old starter labored through the first, needing 40 pitches to escape after surrendering four runs. In the following three frames, the former prized prospect, acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent JT Realmuto to Philadelphia, shut down the Mets, allowing just three hits, one walk and zero runs on only 45 pitches.

But this isn’t out of the ordinary for Sánchez, whose biggest bugaboo in the Major Leagues — other than arm injuries — has been first innings. And according to Fish on First, Sánchez’s five starts this season reveal a rather concerning trend — he has a staggering 19.80 ERA in the first inning. This drops significantly to an impressive 1.98 ERA for innings two through four, with just three walks allowed over that span.

He’s two different pitchers.

And his manager has had just about enough of it.

“I don’t know, but that’s unacceptable in the first inning,” Schumaker said when asked by a reporter about Sánchez’s lack of command. “So, if he wants to start at this level, he’s gonna have to be better in the first inning — it’s just what it is. We had a heart-to-heart, and so did (pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.).

“Was better, obviously, the second through the fourth inning, but he’s put us in a hole early. And at this level, it’s tough to come back from four runs every single time. And it’s just not giving his teammates a chance to win.”

This feels more like Schumaker’s tough-love approach, pushing his young pitcher to rise to the challenge. While using an opener could be explored for Sánchez, given his consistent first-inning issues, Schumaker also rightfully highlights his starter’s ability to excel when he finds his rhythm. The key is for Sánchez to translate his later-inning dominance to the crucial first frame and avoid putting his team in early deficits.

It’s not along the lines of Ron Washington throwing his player(s) under the bus, but it also doesn’t have to be. The truth can hurt sometimes. In an age where players are often protected by their coaches in the media, it’s rare that we see this level of authentic candidness.

In watching the game Sunday, SNY’s broadcast focused on Stottlemyre spending a lot of time in the dugout with Sánchez following his start. That was in addition to Schumaker making a mound visit in the middle of an at-bat in the second inning to challenge his young starter.

That’s another rare tactic but give the 44-year-old manager credit. Even though he’s likely a lame-duck manager, he’s trying to challenge his players—Sánchez, in particular—to ensure that they’ll have long Major League careers.

Perhaps Sánchez’s future isn’t as a starter, but Schumaker isn’t giving up on a young pitcher, once the best pitching prospect in the sport. And neither are the Marlins. But a public ultimatum isn’t exactly a new phenomenon in sports even though those will undoubtedly hold onto the words “unacceptable.”

While some coaches might deflect blame in difficult situations — looking at you, John Calipari — Schumaker opted for a direct approach. Though he didn’t take personal responsibility, it’s clear uncomfortable conversations are happening between him, his coaching staff and Sánchez.

The end goal here is to turn Sánchez into a reliable starter, someone the Marlins can count on from the get-go, not just later in the game. And if that takes challenging a player in the media from a coach who usually strays from that approach — then so be it.

[Fish on First, Phillies Tailgate on X]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.