Miami Marlins

Realmuto takes in return to Miami but ‘not that excited’ to face Marlins pitching staff

J.T. Realmuto returns to Miami since signing to the Philadelphia Phillies

J.T. Realmuto talks to the press about returning to Miami since signing with the Philadelphia Phillies before playing against his former team on Friday, April 12, 2019.
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J.T. Realmuto talks to the press about returning to Miami since signing with the Philadelphia Phillies before playing against his former team on Friday, April 12, 2019.

J.T. Realmuto sat in the visitor’s dugout at Marlins Park and scanned out toward the field.

The ballpark looks much different than when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in February, the last All-Star removed to a Marlins team now devoid of a star.

“It looks great,” Realmuto said, “a lot better now that the [home run] sculpture’s not out there.”

Realmuto on Friday became the latest former Marlin who made his return to the ballpark he once called home as the Marlins began a three-game series with the Phillies to open a nine-game homestand. Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna all had that experience last season.

Marlins_v_Phillies_MJO_3
Miami Marlins Lewis Brinson (9) hugs his former teammate Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto (10) before playing against each other in a regular season baseball game at Marlins Park in Miami on Friday, April 12, 2019. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

He was shipped to Philadelphia in February for catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart, a duo ranked as the Marlins’ Nos. 1 and 21 prospects, respectively.

It ended Realmuto’s nine-year tenure with the franchise that drafted him in 2010, moved him up to the MLB level for good in 2016 and then watched him blossom into an All-Star catcher last season.

And while he’s no longer playing in Miami, Realmuto said he still has an appreciation for the franchise that gave him the opportunity to start his career.

“The whole organization means a lot to me,” Realmuto said. “They took me in as a 19-year-old kid. ... They still have a special place in my heart.”

Marlins manager Don Mattingly added: “I appreciate J.T. I was pretty up front. I think J.T.’s a great player. Don’t necessarily want to see him on the other side. ... He’s a great player.”

But now, Realmuto is in the other dugout, playing for a new team with new goals.

The Phillies (7-5) are in the thick of a four-team race early in the NL East, sitting a half game back of the New York Mets to the division lead and a half-game above the Atlanta Braves and full game ahead of the Washington Nationals. The Marlins, at 3-7 heading into Friday, are already 5-and-a-half games back of the NL East lead and are coming off a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds in which they recorded just one total run.

Realmuto admitted he faced some struggles early in Philadelphia, primarily with learning a new pitching staff in a short amount of time.

“They’ve made it as easy as they can in that aspect,” Realmuto said, “but it’s still something you have to grow with the guys during a game. You can’t really get the feel in spring training. It’s game action that you need.”

Marlins_v_Phillies_MJO_4
Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto (10) talks with his former teammate Miami Marlins Lewis Brinson (9) before playing against each other in a regular season baseball game at Marlins Park in Miami on Friday, April 12, 2019. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

It’s a situation Realmuto is familiar with from his time last year with the Marlins, catching a group of rookies that has formed the backbone of the Marlins’ rotation this year in Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith. The quartet has combined for a 3.54 ERA through the first 13 games of the season.

“They’ve got a great staff over there, really good starters who have a lot of good stuff,” Realmuto said. “I’m not that excited to face them, to be honest with you.”

At the plate, meanwhile, Realmuto looks to be turning the corner. He came into Friday’s series opener with the Marlins hitting .237 with a home run, five RBI and six runs scored over 11 games but is hitting .313 (5-for-16) over his last four games.

“I’m still adjusting,” Realmuto said.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.
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