J.T. Realmuto is back and not a moment too soon for the Marlins.
Realmuto, who has yet to play this season after suffering a lower back contusion on March 11 coincidentally against the Yankees in spring training, was activated from the disabled list in advance of the Marlins' game Tuesday night against the Yankees.
The Marlins, who optioned catcher Chad Wallach to Triple-A New Orleans in a corresponding roster move, could desperately use the offensive help from Realmuto, who begins his fourth season as the team's starting catcher.
“[Realmuto] is a guy who is a tremendous leader for us behind the plate, but also a guy offensively, you plug in and put him in the middle of your order,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said before the game. “It’s really an area we’ve had trouble scoring runs. It’s an area, where you welcome back, knowing that you have to protect him a little bit, early on.”
Realmuto took batting practice on Monday before the game and said everything felt great both in terms of his timing and his ability to play defense behind the plate. Realmuto was placed fifth in the batting order on Tuesday.
"We took the necessary time to come back, but the team did the right thing by me to make sure I healed up," Realmuto said. "I've been extremely lucky the past three years to be able to stay healthy and help as much as I can."
Realmuto, who went 3 for 3 with a home run in a rehab game on Saturday, is coming off a season in which he finished with a career-high 17 home runs and 65 RBI.
During Realmuto’s absence, the Marlins have carried three catchers – Wallach, Bryan Holaday and Tomas Telis. The three combined to hit 13 for 77 (.169), which ranks 13th as a unit among catchers from the 15 NL teams, with no homers and four RBI.
"I just gotta to step in and do my part to help the team as best I can," Realmuto said. "Obviously, we've been struggling lately, but that's just how the game goes. I hope to step in and be a little bit of a spark plug to help this team win. Guys are keeping their heads up and staying positive through their daily work. That's all you can ask for in times like this. You just have to ride the storm until you're rolling good."
Even with Realmuto back, the Marlins are still missing a handful of other key pieces such as shortstop J.T. Riddle (left shoulder), third baseman Martin Prado (left hamstring) and outfielder Garrett Cooper, who is out for at least two months with a partial tear of the tendon sheath in his right wrist.
“Honestly, I feel like we have to get better overall," Rojas said. "J.T. is not going to change the course of this season or Martin [Prado] or J.T. [Riddle] when we get them back. Are we going to be a better team with them? Yes, of course. But as a team we have to find a way to put better at-bats together and find a way to score runs. That’s the bottom line.”
The Marlins have scored three runs or fewer in 10 of their 16 games including Monday’s 12-1 defeat and are 1-9 in those games. They also lost twice in which they scored six runs after surrendering leads in each of those games. Marlins' pitching has allowed four runs or fewer in eight games entering Tuesday.
The Marlins ranked 15th out of 30 major-league teams in hits with 127 entering Tuesday's game, but were 26th in average (.223), last in slugging percentage (.302) and last on-base plus slugging (.598).
“At this point, I feel like we’ve been doing a decent job, but we have to find a way to compete because this is a long season and these first couple of weeks we haven’t shown we can make the adjustments we need to make to score more runs and try to win games,” Rojas said. “I feel like as a group we have to make an adjustment and start playing better.”
The Marlins have faced plenty of opposing team’s aces in the early going of this season. The Marlins have already matched up against All-Stars such as Chris Sale, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Noah Syndergaard and Jose Quintana.
Rojas recorded the lone hit the Marlins had Monday against Yankees’ ace Luis Severino, who threw six shutout innings.
“We’re facing tough pitching,” Rojas said. “They’re doing a good job there too. We have to give them credit. It’s not that we’re not fighting for at-bats. It’s just a matter of competition. We’re competing against the best of the world too and they’re trying to get us out. It’s not easy. It’s not an excuse. We’re facing Luis Severino, one of the best pitchers in the American League. We’re facing Chris Sale. We’re facing those guys. We have to get better overall as a team because we have to start winning games.”
TAKING A BREAK
The Marlins held out center fielder Lewis Brinson on Monday and plan to do the same on Tuesday as he tries to work his way out of a 1-for-36 slump.
With a day off Wednesday, Brinson would be able to get three days to work with hitting coaches Mike Pagliarulo and Frank Menechino. Brinson could then return to action Thursday when the Marlins take on the Brewers, Brinson’s former team, in Milwaukee.
ON THE MEND
Dan Straily (right forearm strain) will make his second rehab start in Jupiter on Wednesday. Wei-Yin Chen (left elbow strain) was scheduled to throw four innings in Jupiter to begin his rehab assignment on Tuesday.