Miami Marlins

How the Marlins are balancing development of hitters with just trying to win a game

Martin Prado talks about getting his rhythm back

Marlins third baseman Martin Prado talks about getting his rhythm back at the plate since returning from injury.
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Marlins third baseman Martin Prado talks about getting his rhythm back at the plate since returning from injury.

Through two games, the Harold Ramirez experience is off to a promising start for the Miami Marlins, with the outfielder 2 of 7 in his first two games in the majors. Through 40 games, the almost-everyday role Martin Prado has had has paid off, too, with the corner infielder one of just two qualifying Marlins hitters with more than 50 at-bats and a batting average better than .250.

Still, Miami couldn’t make room for both in the lineup Wednesday when it closed out a quick two-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Marlins Park. Instead of Ramirez, Miami stuck Curtis Granderson and Garrett Cooper in the two corner outfield spots. Instead of Prado, the Marlins went with Neil Walker and Brian Anderson in their two corner infield spots.

“It is tough,” manager Don Mattingly said. “The situation we’re in, we need to find out what Coop can do. I talked with Martin. It’s kind of back to what it was early in the year with Coop here, with Walk over at first. Martin is kind of that guy right now. He’s still going to be in there, I just can’t say on a regular basis.”

On pace for the worst season in franchise history, Miami (10-30) is in a season-long predicament with its lineup. The Marlins are desperate to start stringing wins together, which means corner infielders such as Walker and Prado — and probably even Granderson, despite the outfielder’s struggles — should be everyday starters. They won’t go for wins at the expense of long-term development, though, which means they need to find space to give opportunities to promising young players such as Cooper and Ramirez, and have patience in spite of Anderson’s season-long struggles.

Right now, playing Cooper over Prado is the toughest decision to justify based on statistics. Prado began the season coming off the bench until Cooper quickly went on the injured list with a calf strain in March. The 35-year-old became a regular starter throughout April and into May, and entered Wednesday with a .276 batting average in 98 at-bats. The former All-Star, however, hasn’t started since Cooper returned from a second trip to the IL on Saturday in New York despite Cooper starting the year 0 for 14.

“As much as anything, it’s just getting him in the lineup,” Mattingly said. “Let him play and see what he can do. I don’t think you could look at the number of at-bats this year and say that there’s been any time in there with any kind of consistency.”

Mattingly said he has spoken with Prado about the changing role and the balancing act he has to work.

Similar conversations, Mattingly said, have taken place with Granderson, who enters Wednesday with a .176 batting average and .266 on-base percentage in 124 plate appearances as the Marlins’ typical starter in left field. The 38-year-old returned to the lineup Wednesday against the Rays (25-15) in Miami after coming off the bench in each of the two games since Ramirez arrived from Triple A New Orleans on Saturday.

“Just keep him part of the mix. It’s the same way,” Mattingly said. “I talked with Grandy. Harold’s going to get his at-bats, but we can’t just sit him. It’s going to be the same with Grandy and Martin. They’re kind of in that same boat.”

Walker is the one veteran to make the decision easy. The utility man takes a .295 batting average and eight-game hitting streak into Wednesday, and has been a reliable fixture in the heart of the Marlins lineup.

For Miami to start piecing together any sort of consistent offense, Mattingly is looking for some of the other top-of-the-order and middle-of-the-order hitters — such as Anderson, Granderson or second baseman Starlin Castro — to get going, providing a complement to Walker. Until something comes to fruition, all the Marlins can do is keep shuffling.

“You just try to make sure the guys aren’t trying to do too much,” Walker said. “You can got in a trap when you’re not scoring runs or getting hits to try to hit homers, or try to do more whereas the best recipe, in my opinion, is to not do less, but just take what the pitcher’s giving you and put good swings on the ball.”