Adeiny Hechavarria has been trying to learn English since he left Cuba five years ago. This offseason, he ramped up his education by having an English teacher visit his house three times a week.
Soon enough, the 25-year-old Marlins shortstop said Thursday, he’s going to have the courage to speak more than just a few words of English with reporters. But for now, he says, he’s going to use what he knows to get on the same page with new second baseman Dee Gordon.
“He speaks enough English, and I speak no Spanish,” Gordon said with a laugh. “So we’re getting it.”
If Thursday’s four innings together in a 7-6 loss to the Twins is any indication of how long it will take for the Marlins’ new double-play duo to mesh, language won’t be a factor at all.
The tandem, playing together for only the second time this spring after Hechavarria missed a week with shoulder tightness, turned a pair of nifty double plays Thursday.
The first double play was the prettiest: Hechavarria backhanded a ball to his left deep in the hole and fired to Gordon, who turned it for the first two outs of the second inning. The second twin killing was a tailor-made 4-6-3 in the third inning.
“Those balls were in and out of gloves rather quickly weren’t they?” manager Mike Redmond said. “Actually, I’ve seen a couple guys like that before in Marlins uniforms.”
Even if the folks who grade defensive metrics don’t agree, Redmond hasn’t been shy this spring about saying his middle infielders have the potential to be just as good as former 2003 World Series teammates Luis Castillo and Alex Gonzalez.
Hechavarria, one of three finalists for the Gold Glove last season, has notoriously received poor grades over the years defensively despite his aptitude of making big, timely stops.
Last season, he graded out at minus-3 in defensive runs saved (tied for 105th among all shortstops) and his total defensive contribution ranked third-worst among everyday shortstops at minus-13 according to Baseball Info Solutions. Only the Rays’ Yunel Escobar (-17) and Hall of Fame-bound Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (-27) were rated worse.
Gordon’s reputation isn’t much better. He was minus-5 in defensive runs saved last season (seventh-worst among second basemen with at least 100 games played). But the Marlins believe Gordon and Hechavarria will bring out the best in each other.
“Dude is amazing,” said Gordon, who pointed out how he’s looking forward to having the same double-play partner for awhile after playing with at least six different shortstops his last two years with the Dodgers. “Just to get my feet wet some more with him this spring is great ‒ for me and the team.”
Even though Hechavarria’s shoulder issue has cost them a week of work together, infield coach Perry Hill said his new double-play tandem has more than enough time left this spring to mesh before Opening Day April 6 against the Braves.
“We have a month to go,” Hill said. “Some of the terminology we’re still working on, but Dee will figure things out. He’s such a good athlete he’s demonstrated a couple times he can make it up because he’s so talented.”
Hechavarria said Gordon, who stole a major-league-best 64 bases last season, has told him he’s going to help him steal more bases in 2015. Hechavarria has stolen 18 bags over the past two seasons, but has also been caught stealing 15 times.
“Dee said he’s going to help me study the pitcher, learn what they do and I like that, appreciate that,” Hechavarria said. “I definitely want to steal more bases this coming season.”
As a hitter, Hechavarria also took a huge step forward in 2014. He raised his average 49 points (.279) from the previous season and finished second in the National League with 10 triples.
Hechavarria is not eligible to become a free agent until 2019 ‒ the same year as Gordon.
“I like Miami a lot,” Hechavarria said. “It’s close to home, there’s a lot of Cubans and that encourages me a lot. Those fans push me, give me strength.”
Marlins right-hander Jarred Cosart has been hearing it from pitching coaches for years: He needs to start using his change-up more.
He’s trying now. Armed with a new grip ‒ one he sort of copied off teammate Henderson Alvarez ‒ Cosart said he threw his change-up about five to six times against the Twins on Thursday and got mixed results. He said the plan is to amp up the usage even more in his next start.
Cosart, 24, has one of the better fastballs in the game (8.0 value according to Fangraphs, ranked 23rd among 87 starting pitchers in 2014). But he uses it a ton (70.1 percent) and ranked as the fifth-most fastball-reliant pitcher in baseball last season, using his curveball 25.6 percent of the time and change-up only 4.2 percent of the time (62nd out of 80 starters who threw it with any frequency).