Miami Marlins

JT Riddle gets his first career start in center. Here’s why Marlins think it can work

Miami Marlins center fielder Harold Ramirez, left, celebrates with Rosell Herrera,center, and JT Riddle after a baseball game against the San Diego Padres in San Diego, Sunday, June 2, 2019. The Marlins won 9-3. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
Miami Marlins center fielder Harold Ramirez, left, celebrates with Rosell Herrera,center, and JT Riddle after a baseball game against the San Diego Padres in San Diego, Sunday, June 2, 2019. The Marlins won 9-3. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo) AP

JT Riddle had never played the outfield before he joined the Kentucky Wildcats for his freshman season in 2011. In high school, Riddle was exclusively an infielder and pitcher and he even committed to Kentucky to be a two-way player. As a freshman, Riddle wasn’t pitching, though, and he was having trouble getting on the field as a second baseman. There were, however, a couple injures in the outfield.

“My first thought was, I’m going to get reps in the outfield,” Riddle remembers.

He wound up starting 40 games in right field.

The situation is similar now for the Miami Marlins, who open up a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at 7:40 p.m. on Tuesday at Miller Park. Until Sunday, Riddle was exclusively a shortstop. On Tuesday, he is making his first career start in center field for the Marlins (21-36) against the Brewers (34-26) in Milwaukee.

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The converted shortstop got his first taste in the finale of a three-game series against the San Diego Padres on Sunday. Riddle entered for the final two innings of a 9-3 win in San Diego and caught the only ball hit to him. With no true center fielder on the active roster, Miami is going to give Riddle a chance to become a regular option at the position.

“I expect that to be good,” manager Don Mattingly said. “Obviously, it’s going to be some type of learning curve. He’s not played a ton of games out there. He played a lot of outfield in college, but not necessarily in center. JT’s a good athlete and seemed to take to it easy — a lot like [Brian Anderson] last year. We put him out there and started working on it, it looked pretty easy for him. Same for Andy last year. We put him out there and it looked pretty natural.”

Riddle’s defensive track record is at the crux of this experiment, which began when the Marlins optioned him to Triple A New Orleans in April. Infielder Miguel Rojas was outplaying Riddle and won the shortstop job, so Miami wanted to find another role for the 27-year-old lefty. Riddle started working in center field and made nine starts there for the New Orleans Baby Cakes before the Marlins recalled him Friday.

In each of his first two seasons in MLB, Riddle accounted for 1.0 defensive wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com, despite playing fewer than 70 full games in both 2017 and 2018. Although the infielder has not yet hit on a consistent basis, his defense provides real value and Miami has reason to think it could eventually be the same in center.

In his first start in right with the Wildcats, Riddle threw out a runner at third base.

“I didn’t mind it at all,” Riddle said. “Anything to be at this level and be able to play every day, whether it’s playing short, whether it’s in the outfield — whatever it is to be able to be up here and be playing, and help the team out.”

This and that

Riley Ferrell is back to throwing long toss and is scheduled to throw a bullpen Wednesday. The relief pitcher, who was a Rule 5 draft pick from the Houston Astros, has spent the entire season on the injured list for right biceps tendinitis and was nearing a return before being pulled back from a rehab stint due to lat soreness last Tuesday.

Jon Berti, who had been a regular contributor and second and third base for the Marlins before landing on the IL last month with an oblique strain, has started his hitting and throwing progression. Slugger Peter O’Brien, who is on the IL with a left rib cage contusion, is doing the same.

Relief pitcher Julian Fernandez is continuing his throwing program as he returns from Tommy John surgery.

There are still no definitive timetables for relief pitcher Drew Steckenrider, catcher Chad Wallach or utility man Neil Walker. Steckenrider has been on the IL since May due to a right flexor strain. Wallach remains in concussion protocol after being hit by a foul ball against the Detroit Tigers last month. Walker just landed on the IL on Friday after suffering a right quad strain.

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