Brandon Barnes has done something no player in 24 years of Marlins baseball has ever done.
He’s hit for the cycle.
But unless some calamity strikes — such as a disabling injury to one of the Marlins’ three starting outfielders — he’ll have a hard time duplicating the feat in Miami and ending the franchise’s cycle drought.
“I know I’m probably not going to be an everyday player here,” Barnes said. “But that’s the thing about this game. You never know. If you don’t make it, you go compete at Triple A and try to get your butt back up here.”
Barnes, 30, is one of three non-roster outfielders in camp for the Marlins this spring with Major League experience, spending parts of five seasons with the Astros and Rockies.
There’s no spot for him on the team’s Opening Day roster. Not if everything remains the same. Not with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna holding down the three starting spots and Ichiro Suzuki coming off the bench.
But the three experienced invites — Barnes, Matt den Dekker and Moises Sierra — provide the Marlins with some level of security in the event one of the Big Three goes down.
“We talk about building [minor-league] depth,” said manager Don Mattingly. “If we have injuries, instead of bringing a guy up who’s not ready and hurting his development, we’re able to bring up a guy that’s been around, has big league games under his belt, and knows the drill.”
Barnes has more than 1,250 plate appearances in the majors, while den Dekker and Sierra each have more than 350 to their credit. Throw in Destin Hood, who is on the team’s 40-man roster and was a September call-up last season, and the Marlins feel they have the injury reinforcements at the ready.
For Barnes, life on the fringe is nothing new.
“I’ve been the 24th, 25th guy every single year,” he said. “I’ve always been having to make the team. I’ve always been the underdog my whole life. I’ve always had to compete for what I wanted.”
But Barnes understands the role.
“What they want me to do, I’m going to do,” he said. “I have a love for this game, a passion for this game, every time I step on the field. I want to kill the other team. I had that same feeling when I was 12. I’m a competitor.”
Barnes’ fiery instinct comes from his football upbringing. He was a free safety in high school before switching to baseball and turning into an outstanding defensive outfielder.
“[He’s] one of the top-three defensive center fielders I’ve ever seen in this game,” said former Marlins hitting coach Eduardo Perez, who was Barnes’ bench coach with the Astros. “He’s really, really good at any position in the outfield, center field being the best.”
The Marlins also plan to try Barnes and den Dekker at first base this spring.
While Barnes carries a career .242 average, he’s won a few games with his bat.
“Bat-wise, he can hit lefties real well,” Perez said. “He’s come a long way. He surprised us a lot in spring training [with the Astros], got a lot of clutch hits.”
Barnes not only hit for the cycle with Houston during the 2013 season, but added a couple of inside-the-park home runs along the way. He’s one of 48 players since 1969 to hit for the cycle and have at least one inside-the-park homer.
The Marlins are the only team in the majors that has never had a player hit for the cycle.
“It’s not about personal gain,” Barnes said of his rare feats. “Let’s worry about winning. That’s the main goal. My job is to help the team win So any way I can do that, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Marlins have shut down left-hander Jeff Locke for a few days because of bicep tendinitis near his left shoulder.
“I just want to get him calmed down before we get him back started again,” Mattingly said. “We’ve got plenty of time.”
Locke, one of the Marlins’ free agent signees, is being pegged for a long relief spot in the bullpen, but could start if an opening develops in the rotation.
“I’m just trying to do the smart thing here and take a few days,” Locke said. “I think we’ll take a couple of more days, try it out, and if feels good, we’re back on the horse. And if it doesn’t, we’ll take the next step.”