Miami Marlins’ Brent Keys is throwback to singles-hitting era


Brent Keys, who led the Florida State League in hitting with a .346 average last season at Single A Jupiter, makes up for a lack of power with an uncanny ability to reach base.

Brent Keys doesn’t put on much of a power show in batting practice, or leave dents in outfield walls with vicious swings that compel pitchers to wince.

Giancarlo Stanton he is not.

But Keys is making waves and drawing raves in the Marlins organization with a style of his own. A 17th-round draft pick in 2009, Keys is a throwback to the era when singles, bunting and walks — old-fashioned baseball — were treasured as highly as brute power.

“He’s got that hit gene, where the ball hits his bat and happens to find grass,” said Double A Jacksonville manager Andy Barkett, who caught a glimpse of Keys toward the end of last season. “You watch him in batting practice, and he’s not impressive. But you watch him in the game, and the next thing you know, he’s scored twice, he’s been on base three times, and he’s made the pitcher throw 25 pitches.”

Keys led the Florida State League in hitting with a .346 average last season at Single A Jupiter and was named the Marlins’ minor league Player of the Year.

Not bad for a guy who hit just two home runs.

“I really don’t take a big swing too often,” Keys acknowledged. “I think the more I try to do it is when I get into trouble. So I try to keep the ball out of the air.”

What Keys does exceptionally is find a way to get on base. A career .315 hitter over five minor-league seasons, his on-base percentage during that time is a robust .390. Last season, Keys reached base at a .415 clip. He walks more often than he whiffs. Twice he has led the league in hitting thanks to a lot of singles. Of his 479 career minor-league hits, 87 percent has been singles.

Keys said his role model growing up in Southern California was Juan Pierre, the ex-Marlin who played with his beloved Dodgers from 2007-09.

There was once a time when Keys felt that he needed to put more oomph in his swings to gain notice. But it didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t in him, and his game suffered as a result.

“At first coming in, I kind of felt like that,” he said. “And then, more and more, I realized when I try to do something that’s not myself, it’s not going to get me anywhere. I’ve accepted it. I know I’m not a guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs.”

The Marlins are perfectly fine with Keys the way he is.

“He’s one of those guys, he just gets it done,” said Marlins manager Mike Redmond. “He’s a tough out.”

Brett Butler, the Marlins’ new outfield and base running coach, said it hasn’t taken him long to see that Keys is a valuable asset.

“I like his passion,” Butler said. “He’s a perfectionist by nature and when something goes wrong, he gets a little frustrated. He understands how the game is supposed to be played. If he can do that, they’ll find a place for him to play.”

There are no openings in the Marlins outfield at the moment.

But if Keys continues to move up the minor-league chain, he could find himself in a big-league uniform before long. That is, if he avoids the hamstring injuries that have plagued him throughout his minor-league career.

Keys has dealt with one hamstring injury after another and said he now goes through a lot of “preventive maintenance” to keep his legs in tune. Last year was his first in the minors in which he played more than 100 games.

“I’ve got to cut out those injuries,” he said. “otherwise, I’m going to be left behind.”

No surprise

Not that there was any doubt, but Redmond said Sunday that Jose Fernandez will be the Marlins’ Opening Day starter when Miami kicks off things against Colorado at Marlins Park on March 31.

Fernandez will not only be the youngest Opening Day starter in Marlins history at 21 years 143 days, but the youngest major-league pitcher to start on Opening Day since Felix Hernandez (20 years, 359 days) did so for the Mariners in 2007.

“It’s a day he’ll remember for the rest of his life,” Redmond said.

The youngest pitcher ever to start an Opening Day game was Catfish Hunter (20 years 4 days) of the 1966 Kansas City Athletics.

Sunday’s game

Two of the pitchers in the mix for the fifth rotation spot — Brad Hand and Brian Flynn — had mixed results Sunday in their spring debuts. Hand was charged with a run in two innings, and Flynn gave up a two-run home run to Adam LaRoche in a 10-3 loss to the Washington Nationals.

Ed Lucas homered for the Marlins, and Reed Johnson and Donovan Solano each drove in runs.

But the Nationals broke it open with four runs in the seventh off Edgar Olmos, who gave up three walks and a hit in a third of an inning.

• Non-roster reliever Henry Rodriguez arrived in Jupiter and is expected to be on the field with the Marlins for the first time on Monday. Rodriguez was stuck in Venezuela trying to work through visa issues. ... Redmond said reliever Carlos Marmol returned to Venezuela to take care of visa matters. Redmond said Marmol could be back Monday night in a “best-case scenario,’’ but it could be a day or two after that.

Henderson Alvarez, who missed a few days with an infection, is gradually working his way back. Redmond said Alvarez could see his first Grapefruit League action Friday.

Coming up

•  Monday: Marlins RHP Jacob Turner vs. Houston Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.

•  Tuesday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler vs. Minnesota Twins (TBA), 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.

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