JT Riddle didn’t do much of anything last winter.
He didn’t swing a bat. He didn’t throw a ball. He couldn’t even go bow hunting after the surgeons who repaired his injured left shoulder last August told him he was to avoid any physical activity that might cause further harm.
“Six months is a long time of not doing anything,” Riddle said.
The shortstop for the Marlins is only now making up for lost time.
After getting off to a slow start, Riddle is swinging a hot bat for the Marlins, going 16 for 40 (.400) at the plate over his previous eight starts.
“It took longer than I thought it was going to,” Riddle said.
Riddle was turning in a strong rookie campaign for the Marlins last season when he injured his left shoulder diving for a ground ball in July.
“My arm was just dead,” Riddle said at the time. “I caught the ball and tried to push myself off the ground (to make a throw). But I couldn’t. I had nothing in my arm to get off the ground.”
Surgery was performed in early August to repair a “slap tear,” forcing Riddle to miss the rest of the season.
He and the Marlins thought he might be ready for the start of spring training and Opening Day. But it wasn’t that simple. Riddle was unable to work out over the winter when he returned home to Kentucky. Doctors told him that he risked injury to his right (throwing) arm if he did anything with his surgically repaired left.
The result: when Riddle began taking infield in spring training, his weakened right arm wasn’t up to the task due to months of inactivity. He was also 15 lbs. lighter from lack of his regular strength and conditioning program.
“My arm felt good (at the start of spring training),” Riddle said. “And then the soreness and tendinitis kind of flared back up on me. In my eyes, I wanted to be back and ready for Opening Day. I pushed it too quick and my arm flared back up again.”
Riddle didn’t return to the Marlins until late May, and he was only hitting .214 one month later.
“It was kind of getting back and getting used to everything again,” he said of his slow start. “It almost felt like my first call-up.”
Miguel Rojas assumed most of the shortstop duties during Riddle’s absence and early struggles. But Rojas has started just two games at short since June 27 as Riddle has re-claimed his old position with better at bats.
And Riddle has made only one error. His .994 fielding percentage leads all National League shortstops with a minimum of 150 fielding chances.
“It was just a matter of getting those muscles working again and, not throwing a baseball six months, everything shuts down,” Riddle said. “It’s a long time when your body is so used to doing something.”
Riddle said he’s still not at full strength physically and likely won’t be the rest of the season.
“After the season’s over, I’m going to get back in the weight room and put the strength back on I had two years ago,” he said.
For now, though, Riddle is making an impact and looking more like the player of a year ago -- before the shoulder injury ended his season prematurely and completely changed his offseason.