Derek Dietrich doesn’t shy away from pitches near the batter’s box.
He isn’t modest about showing off his muscular physique either.
And one thing’s for sure, Dietrich has never given up believing he can be a valuable everyday player for the Marlins.
“I thought I proved to myself that I could play every day and multiple positions when needed,” Dietrich said. “I’m looking to help this club anyway anyhow and help us win ball games.”
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Dietrich finally got the chance to prove that last season when he emerged as the go-to option at second base following Dee Gordon’s 80-game suspension in late April.
Dietrich, 27, whose role fluctuated a few times during his first three seasons as a reserve infielder with the Marlins, played in a career-high 128 games and made 96 starts last season.
Dietrich hit a career-best .279 with seven home runs and 42 RBI with 98 hits in 351 at-bats – also personal bests.
Dietrich helped ease the sting of losing Gordon’s bat in the lineup and his presence at second base.
From April 29 when Gordon began serving his suspension to the All-Star break, Dietrich hit .300 with three homers, 11 doubles and 23 RBI and made four errors.
The opportunity also provided some stability for Dietrich, who also played in left field and made starts at first and third base last season.
But once the buzz of Gordon’s impending return began, however, Dietrich’s hitting numbers declined.
In the 13 games following the All-Star break until Gordon rejoined the team, Dietrich had only four hits in 43 at-bats (.093).
“I think he put a lot of pressure on himself when Dee came back,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He just gets worn down mentally maybe because he’s not used to being out there six or seven days a week. You’re going to go through a stretch where you don’t swing the bat that well and don’t get your hits. I think he takes that to heart and wants to make changes and sometimes you have to kind of ride it out.
“That just comes with the experience of handling the grind of a full season.”
Dietrich didn’t get discouraged though.
Three days after Gordon was back, Dietrich broke a 0-for-23 slump with a pinch-hit, walk-off triple to beat the Cardinals. After the hit, Dietrich ran around shirtless around the Marlins Park diamond after having his shirt torn off by a teammate during the celebration.
That was only one of the notable moments Dietrich had last season.
There was the foul ball that ricocheted off the back wall of the dugout and landed him in the hospital overnight in Atlanta.
And the 24 times he was hit by a pitch last season, which led the National League and was second only to Brandon Guyer’s 31. Dietrich has been hit by pitches 54 times during his career.
With the Marlins possibly carrying only four bench players this season to bolster the bullpen, Dietrich is likely to get plenty of opportunities even as a reserve.
“Everybody knows I take care of my body pretty well and I prepare every day,” Dietrich said. “My approach has always been to show up to the park every day and be ready to go no matter where they need me to play.”
Mattingly said Gordon (eye infection) might be ready to play Tuesday against the Mets. He also said Ichiro Suzuki (knee, back) participated in full workouts Monday in Jupiter.
Jose Urena made his first start of the spring, giving up one big hit – a two-out, two-run home run to ByungHo Park in the first inning of a 9-6 loss to the Twins. Justin Nicolino allowed five runs (four earned) on four hits in one-third of an inning and Tyler Moore hit his second home run of the spring.
▪ Tuesday: Marlins LHP Wei-Yin Chen vs. New York Mets (TBA), 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.