Miami Marlins

The Marlins’ chances of having this shortstop back by Opening Day are improving. Here’s why.

Miami Marlins shortstop JT Riddle, who is rehabbing from left shoulder surgery, is improving his chances of being available by Opening Day on March 29th.
Miami Marlins shortstop JT Riddle, who is rehabbing from left shoulder surgery, is improving his chances of being available by Opening Day on March 29th. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Marlins’ shortstop JT Riddle’s chances of being available by Opening Day are starting to look a little more realistic.

Riddle, who has been hitting in minor-league games in recent days on the back fields of Roger Dean Stadium, played shortstop for the first time in a game since last July when he hurt his left labrum and eventually underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.

Riddle, who started 61 games last season for the Marlins as a rookie, considered the three innings he played Saturday a major step in his rehab.

"Today was a big hurdle to clear to get out there," Riddle said.

With a week left in spring training, Riddle and the Marlins are still taking a cautious approach and won’t rush Riddle’s rehab process just to get him ready for Miami’s opener on March 29th against the Chicago Cubs.

Riddle, who hit .250 with three home runs and 31 RBI in 228 at-bats before being shutdown in late July, would likely split time with Miguel Rojas once healthy and available again.

Riddle said the plan is to continue to get at-bats in minor-league games and play the field every other day for the next few days. Barring a setback, Riddle could see his first action in a Grapefruit League game with the Marlins next week.

"I don’t want to rush it," Riddle said. "I want to go every other day and make sure the body is ready. It’s day to day and I don’t think there’s a set timetable as long as I feel comfortable, it’s kind of in my hands where I want to be 100 percent comfortable and ready for that first game."

Riddle, who fielded a couple of routine ground balls, then turned a 4-6-3 double play and had a couple of hits as well facing lefty pitching. He also had a two-hit game with a home run earlier this week in another game.

"It felt good being out there," Riddle said. "Everything felt fine and felt good. It’s been feeling good at the plate so just have to stay positive. I’m trying to search for that consistent swing and its coming."

Marlins manager Don Mattingly didn’t rule out the possibility Riddle would be available to open the season, but kept the focus on building up his reps since he’s been out for most of the spring.

“He’s passed a lot of tests to get to that,” Mattingly said. "We have to feel like he’s ready to compete. That’s the main thing. You don’t play three or five innings, you play nine and he has to be ready for that. We think he will be, but we’ll see.”

ADDING DEPTH

The Marlins acquired minor league infielder Eric Jagielo from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for cash considerations, and signed left-handed pitcher Sean Burnett to a minor-league contract.

Jagielo, a 25-year old corner infielder, hit .204 with five home runs and 25 RBI last year combined at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Jagielo was a first-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2013 out of Notre Dame.

Burnett, who is 35 years old and has gone 15-23 with a 3.52 ERA in nine major-league seasons (380 games), last pitched for the Nationals in 2016. Burnett signed with the Phillies after that season, but was released just prior to the start of the 2017 season. Left elbow problems in recent years have limited his opportunities.

Burnett, who could give the Marlins’ a lefty option possibly out of the bullpen later in the season, will start in extended spring training.

INJURY UPDATES

▪ Pitcher Elieser Hernandez, a Rule 5 draft pick in December, is still recovering from a wisdom tooth extraction he underwent earlier this week. Hernandez, who has not pitched in a week, said Saturday he was still at least five days away from throwing a baseball again.

▪ Reliever Nick Wittgren, who had surgery on right elbow in September, pitched a scoreless inning during first Grapefruit League outing of the spring Sunday against the Yankees. Wittgren gave up a single to second baseman Neil Walker, but worked out of trouble on the next at-bat by getting third baseman Brandon Drury to ground into a double play.

COMING UP

Monday: Marlins RHP Trevor Richards vs. Washington Nationals RHP Max Scherzer, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.

Tuesday: Marlins RHP Odrisamer Despaigne vs. Washington Nationals TBA, 1:05 p.m., West Palm Beach.

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