Barring an injury or unforeseen circumstances, Rob Brantly is not going to be behind the plate on Opening Day for the Marlins like he was last year.
Come April, he’ll be in New Orleans, preparing for another season in Triple A, while Jarrod Saltalamacchia settles into the job he covets.
Frustrating as that would be for most in his shoes, the left-handed hitting catcher isn’t pouting. He’s taking it as another learning experience on his road back.
“This is what I want to do. I want to be a big-league catcher,” Brantly said Tuesday before doubling, scoring and throwing out a runner at second base during his six innings of work in the Marlins’ 5-4 win over the Red Sox.
“I have to go out with a student mentality, learn and take in as much as I can. To have those guys there, those resources for help — [manager Mike Redmond], Salty, [Jeff] Mathis — I’ve got to take advantage of it as much as I can.”
After a 2013 season to forget defensively (he led the National League with nine passed balls) and offensively (he hit .211 with one homer and 18 RBI in 67 games before being demoted to Triple A), Brantly, 24, went into the offseason knowing he had a lot to work on.
Defensively, the passed balls weren’t his only problem. Opponents were swiping bases on him easily (he threw out only 28 percent of would-be base stealers; Mathis caught 33 percent of base stealers), and he struggled with situational pitching.
Brantly’s catcher’s ERA (4.37) ranked fourth-worst in baseball among those who logged at least 2,000 plate appearances, according to baseball-reference.com. By comparison, Mathis had an ERA of 3.15. Saltalamacchia logged a catcher’s ERA of 3.86 with the Red Sox. Manager Mike Redmond called it a lack of experience.
“Sequences, going after hitters, being aware of situations — it’s a big emphasis of every catcher’s game,” Brantly said. “What are the fly-ball pitches with a runner on third you want to stay away from? What are the pitches you want to stay away from when the other team wants to move a runner? It’s just a matter of staying engaged every pitch — whether I’m out there hitting or behind the plate catching.
Brantly feels more confident this spring. Redmond said he looks comfortable both catching and hitting. Brantly’s third-inning double Tuesday was his third extra-base hit of the spring. He’s 4 for 9 with three RBI. Even his outs are loud, teammates say.
“He always swung it whenever I’ve played with him,” said Tuesday’s starter Brian Flynn, acquired from the Tigers along with Brantly and Jacob Turner in 2012. “Last year was kind of a different thing for me to see. I’m not sure what it was. But it’s good to see him snapping those balls to that side of the field and getting the barrel on the ball.”
Kyle Jensen’s towering two-run home run to left field off Red Sox reliever Drake Britton in the ninth inning rallied the Marlins to a 5-4 come-from-behind win at JetBlue Park.
The most encouraging performance, though, came from Flynn. The 6-7, 240-pound left-hander retired the first eight batters he faced and surrendered only one hit in three scoreless innings of work against a lineup featuring many Red Sox regulars.
Flynn struggled in his first two games this spring out of the bullpen, giving up two earned runs in two innings of work against both the Cardinals and Nationals.
Redmond said Tuesday’s start is the best Flynn has ever looked in a Marlins uniform. “It’s the first time it’s really felt good,” said Flynn, who threw 33 pitches, 22 for strikes. “I threw a lot of fastballs, kind of worked downhill, got a rhythm going out of the windup. I was looking forward to [starting]. It definitely paid off today having that comfortable time, getting on the mound, coming out of the dugout.”
According to baseball-reference.com, only four players since 1914 have played all four infield positions in the same regular-season game. And those four players actually played all nine positions in the same game. No player has ever played just the four infield positions in the same game, in other words.
“In the minor leagues I always tried to talk my manager into one of those nine-innings, nine-position things,” Lucas said. “We were in a pennant race so there was never a real good opportunity for me to do that.”
Coming upWednesday Thursday