Christian Yelich is a leadoff hitter by default, not by design, thrust into that role only when injuries kept the Marlins from putting Rafael Furcal there.
Call it an accident that has turned out well for the Marlins.
Yelich began the day Tuesday with the highest on-base percentage of any regular leadoff hitter in the majors, a .376 mark that ranked him a hair better than the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter (.375).
“The kid’s just playing,” Marlins hitting coach Frank Menechino said.
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Yelich had three hits — just missing a home run with one of them — in the Marlins’ 7-1 win on Monday. That was his fourth three-hit game in a seven-game span. The last Marlin to do that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was Hanley Ramirez in 2009.
Yelich is improving as the season grows later and the shadows become longer. He’s hitting .331 since the All-Star break (after hitting .273 the first half) and .438 over the past 14 days.
“You’re going to go through streaks like this,” Yelich said. “Some of that is just balls finding holes. Hopefully, I can ride it out as long as possible.”
The Marlins projected Yelich to be their No. 2 hitter in the lineup behind Furcal and envision him ultimately hitting in either the No. 2 or No. 3 spots in the order.
But he has embraced the leadoff role. And Yelich led off some in the minors, so it wasn’t as if hitting there was completely foreign to him.
“It’s kind of a role I just fell into,” he said. “They needed someone to do it when Furcal got hurt in spring training. It takes some adjustments and took a little bit of getting used to.”
Like his better-known teammate, Giancarlo Stanton, Yelich, 22, grew up in the Los Angeles area, and the Marlins’ visit to Orange County to face the Angels has given him a chance to perform in front of friends and family.
It also enabled him to put on a hitting show in front of Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who remembered Yelich from his youth. Yelich attended Scioscia’s baseball camps as an 8- and 9-year-old.
“It was kind of a weird moment, stepping in the box and looking in their dugout and seeing him there,” Yelich said. “I had pictures taken with him, baseballs signed by him.”
Scioscia said he remembers Yelich from those long-ago days.
“I do remember,” Scioscia told reporters before Monday’s game. “You see those certain kids on a baseball field, and he was one of them, where you go, ‘Wow.’ Gives you a good feeling when you see kids that age who have the talent and ability get the chance to play their dream out.”
Yelich, the Marlins’ first-round draft pick in 2010, has blossomed into perhaps their best pure hitter, combining his ability to get on base with a bit of power (nine home runs) thrown in.
Menechino said he fully expects Yelich to only get better with age.
“He’s just basically learning,” Menechino said. “Smart kid. You tell him to do something and tell him why it’s going to work, he can do it.”
Menechino said Yelich makes “little adjustments that young hitters don’t make.”
“When he’s going bad, I look at him and say, ‘You know what, when you’re 24 or 25, you’re going to look back when you were 22 and say, why was I so stupid?’ ” Menechino said. “He’s floored by that. He doesn’t know how good he’s going to be.”