Some extra notes, news and takeaways from the Miami Marlins’ six-game road trip, which included a series wins against the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers:
The offense: It was only a month ago that the Marlins were on pace for one of the worst offensive seasons in MLB history. Through its first 41 games, Miami averaged just 2.6 runs per game. Now it’s up to 3.6 per game after another great six-game stretch at the plate.
Nothing summed up what’s going right better than the Marlins’ fifth inning against the Brewers on Tuesday in Milwaukee. Miami sent 15 batters to the plate and scored a franchise-record 11 runs on nine hits with only three going for extra bases. Eight of the nine Marlins got a hit, and all nine scored at least once and drove in at least one run. Miami scored 16 runs Tuesday, then another eight Wednesday. Even after a 5-1 loss Thursday, the Marlins finished the road trip averaging 7.5 runs per game.
Miami has figured out a little bit of identity in the second quarter of the season thanks in large part to the arrivals of outfielders Garrett Cooper and Harold Ramirez, both of whom are high-contact hitters. Power will come and go, so the Marlins will continue to focus on just putting the ball in play.
Power hitting: The power doesn’t hurt, though, and the reason Miami’s offense has jumped up such a level is because of the Marlins’ newfound penchant for going deep. Miami hit only 24 home runs in its first 41 games, then hit 23 in its next 19, including eight on this six-game road trip.
While catcher Jorge Alfaro leads the Marlins with nine homers and added another Sunday in San Diego, the bigger differences is those who have newly discovered — or rediscovered — their power. Slugging third baseman Brian Anderson went into Tuesday with five homers this season and went deep twice in three games at Miller Park. Cooper hit his third career homer Sunday, then his fourth Tuesday. Even utility player Rosell Herrera and catcher Bryan Holaday, a pair of reserves, went long at Petco Park. Some of these homers — like the latter two — are probably just blips, but Anderson and Cooper seem to have turned something of a corner at the plate, which means the homers should come from time to time.
“Guys are just kind of understanding what kind of hitters they are,” Anderson said Wednesday, “and they’re getting those mistakes and they’re not missing them right now.”
JT Riddle in center field: This was always the plan when the Marlins optioned Riddle to Triple A New Orleans in April. The shortstop had lost his starting job to infielder Miguel Rojas and needed to find another way to contribute in the Majors. Without a true center fielder on the active roster, Miami decided to give Riddle a shot, so the lefty joined the New Orleans Baby Cakes to learn a new position.
Riddle got his first look in center against the Padres on Sunday, then three consecutive starts at his new position in Milwaukee. He got through his first test more than cleanly — on Wednesday, the 27-year-old logged a pair of outfield assists to help the Marlins grab a series win. For now, he looks like Miami’s solution in center and his presence lets Harold Ramirez move to a more natural spot in right field.
“Teams probably don’t realize what kind of arm this guy’s got. He’s got a cannon from the outfield,” Mattingly said Wednesday. “He’s an athlete and I think he looks pretty good out there so far.”
Most of the pitching staff: Throw out two disappointing outings by starting pitcher Caleb Smith to bookend the road trip and the Marlins’ staff stayed right on track on this road trip. In the middle four games, Miami posted a 2.25 ERA with 41 strikeouts and only 10 walks.
The starting pitchers, as usual, carried the load. On Saturday, Jose Urena went six innings for the ninth consecutive outing despite allowing three earned runs. On Friday, Trevor Richards followed it up with five shutout innings. After an off day, Pablo Lopez took the mound Tuesday and threw another six shutout innings. On Wednesday, Sandy Alcantara went seven innings of one-run ball.
As Smith has tailed off a bit, the Marlins are making a case for depth as their strength.
Caleb Smith: The starter, who became Miami’s de facto ace in the first month of the season, bookended the road trip with Miami’s only two losses. He was solid enough Friday against the Padres, giving up two earned runs on just three hits with eight strikeouts. His loss to the Brewers on Thursday was more discouraging.
Smith had lowered his ERA all the way down to 2.00 after his first start in May. Now it’s up to 3.41 after Milwaukee hit three home runs and scored four runs in five innings against the left-handed pitcher. Smith only struck out two batters and failed to complete six innings for the fifth straight start.
Most concerning is the way his velocity dipped. Smith entered Thursday averaging 92.2 mph on his four-seam fastball. On Thursday, he only topped out at 92.4 mph. Mattingly also revealed Smith worked with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. before his start in San Diego to get his arm slot back up after it dropped in some of his other outings in May. These are all signs of bigger issues for Smith.
Harold Ramirez’s last two games: This sort of stretch was always inevitable for Ramirez. The outfielder wasn’t going to bat .400 — like he was in the middle of a series against the San Francisco Giants immediately before the road trip. He probably wasn’t going to hit .373, either — like he was after Miami’s three-game series in San Diego.
Now the rookie finds himself in the first rough patch of his career. Ramirez went hitless Wednesday and Thursday against the Brewers after going without a hit only twice in his first 18 starts. He also added his first career three-strikeout game to wrap up the road trip Thursday.
Ramirez is now hitless in his last 11 at-bats with four strikeouts and his batting average is down to .329. The biggest test of his young Major League career will be seeing how he responds.