ST. PETERSBURG -- It might not seem like it to the average baseball fan who has seen Adeiny Hechavarria make more than his share of sterling defensive plays, but in the eyes of his position coach, and those who measure fielding metrics, there’s still plenty of room for the Marlins’ shortstop to grow.
And in Wednesday’s thrilling 5-4 win over the Rays, a game in which Hechavarria made seven assists and turned three big double plays, Marlins infield coach Perry Hill saw growth where most others probably couldn’t.
“There were a couple plays [Wednesday] night where the ball was hit so hard that if he wouldn’t have been in the right spot he wouldn’t have made the play,” Hill said Thursday. “But he moved with the count and adjusted with the location of the pitch.”
That’s something Hechavarria, in the midst of his second year with the Marlins, didn’t do enough of last year, Hill admitted. But that was mainly because he didn’t know National League hitters, Hill said.
Last year, Hechavarria ranked next-to-last in Ultimate Zone Rating among shortstops (-9.0) with at least 935 innings played. He also was tied for 18th among regular shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved above average (-3).
Entering Thursday’s series finale against the Rays, Hechavarria has improved in both areas since last year with a -3.5 UZR (24th among shortstops) and plus-1 DRS (tied for 11th).
“It’s still a learning process,” Hill said. “We’re probably still a year away from seeing the really good Hech. But as soon as he learns the league, learns the hitters, he retains all this stuff, he’ll get better, much better.”
Of Hecharria’s six errors this season, five have been throwing errors. “We’ve talked about that, too,” Hill said. “Those lollygag, puff throws, I don’t think you’ll see that again.”
A son of Tampa who began his professional coaching career with the Rays, Marlins pitching coach Chuck Hernandez not only grew to knew Don Zimmer as a mentor, but as a close friend.
So after learning of Zimmer’s passing during the middle of Wednesday’s game, the 53-year-old Marlins assistant naturally took the news hard.
“He was a friend. He was a mentor to me,” Hernandez said after the game before his voice trailed off and he took a moment to compose himself. “He fought a hard long fight as would be expected. He’s going to be in a good place. All my thoughts are with his family, [his wife] Soot and his son. Just a great guy — what an impact on so many people for so long. We’re going to miss him.”
Zimmer, 83, spent 66 years in the majors as a player, coach and manager and wore 14 different uniforms — but none longer than the 11 seasons with the Rays.
• Friday: Marlins RHP Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.24 ERA) vs. Chicago Cubs RHP Jason Hammel (6-3, 2.78), 4:05 p.m., Wrigley Field.
• Saturday: Marlins LHP Randy Wolf (1-1, 3.38) vs. Cubs RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-5, 2.54), 4:05 p.m., Wrigley Field.