Marlins right fielder Garrett Cooper talks about Opening Day start
Garrett Cooper’s chance for a major-leage home run came almost two years ago, when he debuted for the New York Yankees in the middle of the summer and got 13 games under his belt.
The wait lasted until Wednesday. More than 22 months, 39 games and four trips to the injured list later, Cooper finally delivered the sort of hit which made him intriguing to the Miami Marlins when they traded for him before the 2018 season, then immediately slotted him into their starting lineup. For the first time since his brief stint with the Yankees, Cooper is getting a chance to play the role the Marlins envision him filling.
“I’ve got a week of games under my belt right now and I finally get back to feeling how I felt the last 15 years of playing baseball, where you’re playing every day,” Cooper said Wednesday. “The last year and a half, like I’ve told you guys 100 times, it’s mentally more than it is physically and you’ve just got to grind. I’ve been grinding for the last year and a half to get back to this point.”
Injuries have too often been the whole story for Cooper throughout his three-year career in MLB. He was Miami’s Opening Day right fielder in 2018, but played only four games before landing on the disabled with with a right wrist contusion. When he returned midway through the season, Cooper played only 10 more games before sustaining a season-ending wrist injury.
The story was eerily similar this season. Once again, Cooper started Opening Day in right field for the Marlins and went on the injured list after only three games with a left calf strain. When he returned in April, Cooper’s stay lasted two plate appearances before he got hit on the hand with a pitch and went back on the injured list.
Although he has been a part of Miami’s regular plans for more than a year, at-bats simply haven’t been frequent enough for him to find the sort of sustained success he needed to finally hit his fiirst home run.
On Wednesday, he finally got his pitch. Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris left a 91-mph fastball in the middle of the strike zone and Cooper pounced, sending his first career homer into the Marlins’ bullpen in left-center.
The homer continued a strong series for Cooper in Detroit. After getting a hit in the series-opening win Tuesday, Cooper went 1 for 3 with a walk Wednesday. The homer kicked off Miami’s comeback on the way to a 6-3 win against the Tigers at Comerica Park. Don Mattingly sees a player learning how to hit to his strengths.
“I don’t think it’s just the playing,” the manager said Wednesday. “I think experience [helps], but he’s a guy who catches the ball back deep, so he doesn’t really play it out front very much. He’s kind of an opposite-field guy, but it’s something that I think comes with time. The more he knows pitchers, looks for pitches to kind of anticipate a little differently, it doesn’t really matter if it comes out in a big way or not. I think he’s a doubles guy.”
Cooper returned to the clubhouse after the win to find about 40 text messages on his phone. He got the ball back easily and plans to send it to his parents’ home in California, where they can display it on their mantle alongside some of his other milestone accomplishments, like his first major-league hit.
While he’s still batting just .167 because of an 0-for-14 start to the year, Cooper enters the series finale against Detroit with hits in four of his past six games. In the stretch since recording his first hit of the year May 15, the outfielder is 6 for 22 with the homer and three walks.
“I felt like, a couple years ago when I started tapping into everything and figuring out my swing, that I could hit 15, 20, 25 homers and I haven’t gotten a chance to play every day,” Cooper said. “Getting hurt last year put a little wrench into everything.”