After Miguel Rojas homered in a spring training game a month before the 2017 season, Marlins bench coach Tim Wallach told him that he had likely met his quota for the entire season.
“Wally told me, ‘Hey, it’s a shame. You just hit your only homer of the year,’” Rojas recalled. “He knew I only hit one a year.”
One home run — and exactly one — was all Rojas ever managed to muscle out in a season. Like clockwork, Rojas hit one homer in 2014, one in ’15, one in ’16 and, despite Wallach’s spring training prediction, one in 2017.
Which is why Rojas’ is suddenly raising eyebrows.
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Rojas increased his season total to seven home runs — two behind team leader and 2017 Home Run Derby contestant Justin Bour — with a pair of shots on Sunday.
Suddenly, an infielder who had averaged one home run for every 189 at bats his first four seasons is averaging one blast for every 23 at bats in this one.
And he’s hitting them off some of the game’s best pitchers. Clayton Kershew, Jake Arrieta and Chad Bettis were all victims of Rojas’ newfound clout.
Rojas attributes his power surge to one factor: regular playing time.
“I never had this opportunity to play on a daily basis in the big leagues,” explained Rojas, the quintessential utility infielder before assuming the Marlins’ full-time shortstop’s job this season. “When you come off the bench, you can’t be swinging for the fences. You have to be short with your swing. You’re trying to get on base. You’re trying to get hits, because you don’t want your average to be .160 or .170. That doesn’t give you the freedom to go for the fences.”
So Rojas is taking his cuts now, and pitchers are beginning to take notice.
They’re starting to pound him inside in order to move him off the plate, then trying to get him to chase after breaking pitches thrown down and away.
In addition to hitting two homers on Sunday, he was also hit by two pitches.
But seven home runs a little more than a quarter of the way into the season? After never having hit more than one?
Rojas laughed when asked if he had found some illegal magic elixir.
After Saturday’s game, he said drug testers, as part of the league’s random sampling program involving all players, took two blood samples from him. Rojas also provided them with three urine samples.
The next day he hit two homers.
“If I’m doing something (illegal), it would be out there,” Rojas said with his ever-present smile.
For now, Rojas is enjoying his sudden pop.
He’s even harbored thoughts of participating in the Home Run Derby.
“That’s something I always think of,” Rojas said. “When I take (batting practice), I hit a lot of balls out. I think I could do a good job. I’m not kidding.”
When he hit his first home run of the season on April 8, Wallach turned to him again.
“Wally told me, ‘You’re done,’” Rojas recalled.
He wasn’t. To most everyone’s surprise, Rojas has hit six more since, including two on Sunday.
“After I hit the second one, Wally high-fived me,” Rojas said. “I feel good about showing them I can do a little bit more than hit just one.”
NOTES: The Marlins made franchise history Sunday, and not in a pleasant way.
For the first time ever, the Marlins lost a game in which they had owned a lead of five runs or more in the ninth, going full meltdown in a 10-9 loss to the Braves. The Marlins held a 9-4 lead before the Braves erupted for six runs in the ninth to pull off the improbable comeback.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Marlins had lost two previous games in which they led by four runs in the ninth inning or later: Sept. 17, 2006, in Atlanta and June 25, 2012, at home against the Cardinals. But in both of those instances, they ended up losing in extra innings.
Before Sunday, they had never lost a game in nine innings in which they led by more than three runs in the ninth, according to Elias.
▪ The Marlins on Monday optioned left-handed pitcher Dillon Peters to Triple A New Orleans to make room for right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, who was activated from the disabled list.