Garrett Cooper stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning of the Miami Marlins’ rout of the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday in pursuit of a double, in the pursuit of history.
He had already hit a triple, home run and single in his first three plate appearances of the night. One knock into the gap or to the outfield wall might have been enough for Cooper to become the first player in the Marlins’ 26-and-a-half-year existence to hit for the cycle.
Cooper knew that, too. His swing showed it as he struck out in the seventh and eighth innings to finish 3 for 5 in the Marlins’ 9-0 win to back up a solid MLB debut by starting pitcher Jordan Yamamoto.
“Man, I was really trying for that,” Cooper said. “I swung a little too hard my last couple at-bats. But, anyhow, it helped the team win.”
Wednesday was the just latest highlight night at the plate over the past month for Cooper, who has been waiting for a stretch like this for the past year and a half.
Consistent playing time. Regular at-bats. No injuries.
A chance to prove himself.
It took awhile to get there. Two wrist injuries derailed his 2018 season. Two more injuries shut him down for most of the first six weeks this season.
But now that he’s healthy and on the field every day, Cooper has taken full advantage. After going 0 for 6 with three strikeouts in his first two games back — and a collective 0 for 14 to start the year — the slugging outfielder/first baseman has safely reached base in 24 of the Marlins’ past 25 games, posting a .340 batting average (32 for 94) with six home runs, 20 RBI, 12 walks and 21 runs scored over that stretch. He has hits in 20 of those games and nine multi-hit outings.
“Coming back from the injury earlier in the year, I think I was trying to do too much and got away from my plan as a hitter,” Cooper said. “Middle of the field, left-center to right-center. Just calming everything down, slowing everything down, taking my walks when they give them to me and driving pitches I can hit.”
And he’s not just getting isolated hits to run up his batting average but result in little run production.
Some highlights from this stretch:
▪ He hit a go-ahead grand slam in the Marlins’ 5-2 win against the Detroit Tigers on May 23.
▪ He bookended a five-run fourth inning in the Marlins’ 9-3 win against the San Diego Padres on June 1 with a pair of singles.
▪ He had a four-hit game, including two hits in the team’s franchise record 11-run fifth inning, in the Marlins’ 16-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on June 4.
“It’s been good to see him,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We always felt like he was going to hit. ... You see a guy put 100 at-bats together in a fairly consistent basis, somewhere in there if a guy can hit, he’s going to figure it out. He’s going to find a little stretch where he goes ‘Oh, there it is.’ I think we were able to do that and finally get him out there enough and him stay on the field enough for it to come out.”
And then there was his performance Wednesday, one that helped the Marlins snap a six-game losing streak and help put the Marlins in a good spot mentally as they close a nine-game homestand with three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend.
It started with a triple to right field in the first inning, aided by Dexter Fower bobbling the ball slightly as Cooper rounded second and hustled to make it into third base. He scored one batter later on a Brian Anderson single.
“Everyone had to fall down for me to get that triple,” Cooper said.
He followed in the second with a 429-foot grand slam to left-center field in the second to give the Marlins a commanding 5-0 lead early. He added a single through the right side of the infield in the fifth.
“Just put some good swings on pitches,” Cooper said.
It’s a recurring theme for him.