One bat swing set off a chain reaction.
On the fourth pitch of his first at-bat on Tuesday night, Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria grounded a ball to second for an otherwise routine out. Only there was nothing ordinary about it.
Over the course of the next 24 hours, that one swing would end up sending ripples from Miami to Tacoma, from Tacoma to Jupiter, and from Jupiter to New Orleans.
It would lead to a late-night conference call involving Marlins manager Don Mattingly and top members of the front office, a hurried call to Tacoma with orders to pull second baseman Steve Lombardozzi from his game with Triple A New Orleans, before a fast shower and a red-eye flight from one corner of the country to the other.
It would illustrate what has been one of the most improbable few days in Marlins history, an unfathomable stretch of misfortune in which the franchise has had to deal with injuries to four infielders, three of them shortstops.
The left side of the Marlins’ infield has been completely wiped out.
“It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced,” said Marc DelPiano, who as Marlins vice president of player development has been in the middle of the roster shuffling that has transpired throughout the organization.
Since Sunday, the Marlins have lost Hechavarria (strained abdominal muscle), third baseman Martin Prado (hamstring) and backup infielder Miguel Rojas (broken thumb) to the disabled list. A fourth player, rookie shortstop J.T. Riddle, was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup when he injured his right index finger while fielding ground balls during pregame infield practice.
Each of the injuries sparked a series of decisions that altered rosters up and down the Marlins’ farm system, not just at the major-league level.
DelPiano described it as “a shell game.”
“It’s been crazy,” he said.
It started Sunday in New York when Rojas broke his thumb on a check swing. Prado, who had been given the day off for normal rest, was brought in to take his place. But a few innings later, Prado re-injured his hamstring while running the bases.
Prado was put on the disabled list immediately. The Marlins called up Riddle from New Orleans, which was playing in Tacoma, and crossed their fingers that Rojas’ thumb injury was not serious. But X-rays taken after the Marlins returned to Miami revealed a significant fracture, and Rojas went on the 60-day DL.
Once again, the Marlins reached down to their minor-league system for immediate reinforcements. It turned out to be Lombardozzi, a 28-year-old second baseman who had spent five years with the Nationals, Pirates and Orioles but last played in the majors in 2015.
Lombardozzi was unsigned at the start of spring training and began knocking on doors looking for work. He drove around Florida’s Grapefruit League, hoping to land a tryout. To stay fit, he and his wife stopped at parks and sandlots, where she rolled him ground balls.
The Marlins gave him a tryout, signed him to a minor-league contract and assigned him to New Orleans.
“He was a guy we targeted in the offseason,” DelPiano said. “There was interest from other clubs. He wanted to go where he felt he had some opportunity so he wasn’t just spinning his wheels again.”
Lombardozzi likely would have spent the entire summer at New Orleans had the Marlins not been hit with a tidal wave of injuries.
On Tuesday, Hechavarria swung at Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright’s 1-2 sinker, grounding the pitch to second while straining his left oblique muscle in the process. He was removed from the game.
Once it was determined that the injury was serious enough to put Hechavarria on the disabled list, Marlins executives set up a conference call to discuss their next step. It was close to midnight. Ultimately, they decided to call up Lombardozzi.
By the time word reached the West Coast, where New Orleans was playing Tacoma, it was already 9 p.m. The Marlins wanted Lombardozzi in Miami in time for Wednesday’s game.
DelPiano managed to reach New Orleans athletic trainer Greg Harrel.
“Get him out of the game immediately,” DelPiano instructed Harrel. “Get him a flight from Tacoma to Miami as soon as you can.”
Lombardozzi was pulled from the game.
“He gets his shower, the [clubhouse attendant] takes him to the hotel to get his bags, they rush him to the airport, and he barely makes the red-eye,” DelPiano said. “He probably never slept five minutes.”
The whirlwind of events didn’t end there.
Riddle, who was slotted to start at shortstop, injured his finger before batting practice and had to be scratched from the lineup. The Marlins were now out of shortstops.
Mattingly had to get creative. He moved regular second baseman Dee Gordon to shortstop, a position he last played in 2013, and put the travel-weary Lombardozzi at second, his first big-league game in two years.
DelPiano’s job wasn’t done though.
For every player the Marlins call up — and they’ve raided New Orleans for five players since Sunday — DelPiano and his staff have had to plug the roster holes left behind.
In order to do that, they’ve hastily moved players up the minor-league ladder while signing others off the free-agent market, including infielder Mike Aviles. They acquired infielder Nick Noonan from the Milwaukee Brewers for cash considerations. They will be playing for New Orleans.
“You don’t realize the domino effect it has,” DelPiano said. “It’s significant.”