Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson talks about Opening Day
All Lewis Brinson could do was shake his head.
The pitch from Washington Nationals All-Star Stephen Strasburg sailed right past him into the bottom-right corner of the strike zone.
Strike 3. Brinson’s out. Again.
The struggling Miami Marlins outfielder tossed his bat to the side in disbelief and made his way back to the field for the third inning of the Marlins’ eventual 5-0 loss.
It has been a recurring sight lately for Brinson, the centerpiece player the Marlins acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers when they traded Christian Yelich.
Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Cleveland Indians, the first of six on the road, Brinson has just one hit while striking out 16 times in 27 at-bats during his past 11 games. His season batting average is now .179 after hitting .199 in 109 games last season.
After getting a full year to work through the early struggles of playing at the major-league level and another strong spring training followed up by a slow start in the regular season, there’s a sense of urgency for Brinson as the Marlins continue to find a consistent offensive identity.
“Last year, we were really patient, to the point that we wanted to let him get that experience,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “It probably wouldn’t be that same amount this year. You’re always looking at your roster. You’re trying to find out what makes us better right now, what’s the best for the guys. You’re always looking to make your club a little bit better.”
Brinson’s biggest problem, in simplest terms, is making contact. According to Statcast, Brinson has failed to make contact on 35.6 percent of his swings this season and has swung at pitches outside of the strike zone 38.3 percent of the time this year. Both are second on the team among players who have faced at least 200 pitches, behind only catcher Jorge Alfaro.
“You are what you eat,” Mattingly said. “If you’re going to swing at bad stuff, you’re not going to hit.”
Brinson had three consecutive games out of the starting lineup in the middle of the nine-game homestand to reboot and get extra time in the batting cage, watch video and correct problems that have crept up since the end of spring training, during which he hit .278 with five home runs and showed a solid approach at the plate.
“Just trying to have a better approach, to get in a better spot to hit and recognize pitches,” Brinson said. “I’m trying to get in a better position. I was there at the beginning of the season, and once the season started, I kind of got away from that. I’m refining that and trying to get back to where I was. It’s not far off.”
Despite the struggles, Brinson said he hasn’t lost confidence in his ability. At some point — sooner rather than later, he hopes — the success will come.
“You want to have success all the time,” Brinson said. “It’s near impossible to get a hit every time or hit a ball hard every time, especially up here. You take it one day at a time, try to battle, get yourself in a good hitter’s count. ... Some stuff will start going my way and we’ll take it from there.”
And while Mattingly said he doesn’t envision making a roster move with Brinson in the near future, the options right now are minimal without making changes to the 40-man roster. The only Triple A players on the 40-man roster with considerable outfield experience are Monte Harrison, Austin Dean and Peter O’Brien.
Harrison, the club’s No. 3 overall prospect, has been on a tear at the plate after missing the first seven games with a minor wrist injury, but the Marlins don’t plan to rush him to the majors. O’Brien and Dean both have been called up and optioned back down to the minors. Plus, neither can play center field.
Gabriel Guerrero and Harold Ramirez are also options, but since neither is on the 40-man roster, the Marlins would need to designate a player for assignment or move a player on the 10-day Injured List — Garrett Cooper or Austin Brice — to the 60-day IL to open a spot.
“You’re trying to figure out what’s best for everyone,” Mattingly said.