Don Mattingly on offensive woes: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been through anything quite like this’
Just a week ago, the Miami Marlins found rock bottom. A two-game midweek series against the Tampa Bay Rays yielded a pair of shutout losses, dropping the Marlins’ already historic pace for offensive futility down to new lows with more than a quarter of the season done.
It might have been exactly what Miami needed. The Marlins ripped off a season-long four-game winning streak after the miniature sweep with a newly invigorated offense. Although the sample size is small, the approach is improved and enough to inspire some confidence in the clubhouse.
“As soon as we faced all those guys throwing really hard, I think it made us realize we’ve got to be ready for the fastball,” infielder Miguel Rojas said. “That’s exactly who we are as a team. As a team, we’ve got to be ready for the fastball because we’ve got a lot of guys here who can hit the fastball, so if we’re letting guys establish their pitch early in the game, and go 2-3 innings just with fastballs and then they start mixing up later in the game, that’s the recipe.”
Miami (14-31) began its winning streak with a four-game sweep against the New York Mets, then kicked off a seven-game road trip Tuesday with a 5-4, 11-inning win against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. In the series-opening win, the Marlins piled up five extra-base hits for only the fifth time all year and nearly led wire-to-wire by pouncing on fastballs. To score its first-inning run in Detroit, Miami singled off a pair of fastballs by starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull. To score again in the second, the Marlins singled and doubled on fastballs by the starting pitcher.
Outfielder Harold Ramirez’s fourth-inning home run came against a Turnbull fastball and so did a third-inning double by slugging third baseman Brian Anderson. Miami was about to claim a wire-to-wire win before the Tigers (18-27) scored a pair of unearned runs in the ninth to force extra innings.
The recipe was the same for the Marlins’ in their win against the Mets on Sunday, when all three of their extra-base hits came against fastballs. It was the case Saturday, when Jon Berti launched a lead-off homer against a 93-mph fastball. The seeds of this identity have been present since before the season.
“From spring training, I saw in this group right here — young talent that we have — we’ve got to be ready to be aggressive and don’t be scared or afraid to make mistakes, that’s the biggest thing. When we go on this rough patches, I think you’ve got to be careful with what you do at the plate. You don’t want to be chasing,” Rojas said. “Sometimes that first pitch is the best one that you get and you’ve got to get that fear away from you and, individually, you have to stop thinking.”
The signs, manager Don Mattingly said, were even been present in the midst of the first quarter of the season. A week before its sweep at the hands of the Rays, Miami lost a four-game series to the Chicago Cubs despite scoring six in the series-opener. The Marlins did enough to keep starting pitchers Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish from winning any of the four games, even if it was only enough to win one in Chicago.
“Our at-bats have been pretty good,” Mattingly said. “We did a really nice job of having the right approach, laying off stuff we needed to lay off of. We just weren’t having the success we needed with the balls we were getting to hit.”
Although it took two weeks, Miami is finally reaping some of the rewards Mattingly thought could eventually reveal themselves.
The Marlins know they’re going to have to scratch out runs all season without enough prolific hitters in the lineup. It also means they have to take advantage of their opportunities. On a four-game winning streak, it’s exactly what Miami is doing.
“The difference between this last week and the past,” Rojas said, “has been that we’ve been ready for the fastball early in the game.”