Don Mattingly on offensive woes: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been through anything quite like this’
The much-improved Miami Marlins offense is getting some more help. Neil Walker, who had been the Marlins’ most productive hitter before landing on the injured list last month, was activated from the injured list for Miami before the Marlins begin a three-game series against the Washington Nationals at 7:05 p.m. on Monday in Miami.
Walker is right back in the lineup, batting fifth and returning to his usual spot at first base at Marlins Park.
“I’m feeling good,” Walker said. “Last week, I got a lot of good work in Jupiter and I was able to get in some games this weekend, so right on par with what they were telling me as far as a timeline. It’s good to be back. It’s good to know that I was able to do a lot of things.”
Walker’s injury in May came just as Miami (30-46) was starting to solve some of its issues on offense. The Marlins placed the utilityman on the IL with a right quad injury on the final day of May while the team was in the middle of a road series against the San Diego Padres, which wound up as their fourth series victory in their last five.
Walker was leading qualifying hitters for Miami with a .295 batting average when he went to the IL. Walker also has a .375 on-base percentage, .443 slugging percentage and .818 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
“He was swinging the bat really well when he got hurt,” manager Don Mattingly said. “Hopefully, we can kind of get him back rolling again. We’ll be a little careful with his playing time early on, so we’ll be mindful of that. Obviously, it’s caused us some little changes with Cooper moving back into the outfield. It causes us to mix and match a little more in the outfield.”
To make room for Walker on the 25-man roster, the Marlins sent pitcher Jeff Brigham to Triple A New Orleans. Miami is back to a four-man bench for this series against the Nationals (37-40) after playing the last few with only three available hitters off the bench.
Sticking Walker in at first base regularly isn’t as simple as it was in the first few months of the season. The emergence of young hitters like slugger Garrett Cooper, and outfielders Harold Ramirez and Cesar Puello has reshaped the Marlins lineup. Cooper, who started in right field on Opening Day, made his last 11 appearances at first base before moving back to right Tuesday in Walker’s first game back.
Although Walker gives Miami some flexibility, Mattingly expects to primarily use Walker at first base and Cooper in right field except for when slugging third baseman Brian Anderson needs a day off. With Walker at first base, Cooper winds up as the only player away from his most comfortable position. To keep Cooper at first, the Marlins would have to play Walker out of position at third and Anderson out of position in right.
Still, Walker got some work away from first base on his brief rehab stint. Walker, who has primarily been a second baseman throughout his career, played only two games with Class A Advanced Jupiter. He went 1 for 6 with a double, a walk and two strikeout, starting his second and final game with the Jupiter Hammerheads at third base.
As of now, nothing has changed for Walker from the start of the year even as so much has in Miami.
“Just being ready. Even from Day 1 in spring training, having the conversation with Donnie about just, Whatever you need me to do,” Walker said. “I’ve taken ground balls at third base all season before the games and obviously spent all my time at first, but if I’m asked to go over there I’m certainly capable.”