On April 29, Don Mattingly wrote in Ichiro Suzuki’s name at the top of his lineup card. Since then, Derek Dietrich, J.T. Realmuto and Adeiny Hechavarria have taken turns in the leadoff spot.
“I really don’t have an alternative,” Mattingly said then.
But in the 73 games since Dee Gordon began his suspension for a drug violation, Mattingly’s daily game of musical chairs with the Marlins’ leadoff spot has worked wonders.
The Marlins’ .403 on-base percentage from the leadoff position since April 29 ranks second in the majors, behind only the Cardinals’ .404 mark.
“The most important part of being a leadoff hitter is getting on base,” Dietrich said. “Anytime you get the leadoff guy going, it sets the tone, especially on the road, that first at-bat. That’s huge.”
Dietrich had never before batted first in the lineup before Gordon began his 80-game leave of absence. Nor had Realmuto.
But one or the other has batted first in 38 of the 73 games post-Gordon, with Ichiro receiving 29 starts in the top spot and Hechavarria getting the other six.
“It’s been good,” Mattingly said of the production he has received from the No. 1 hole. “Ichiro’s been incredible. J.T.’s been pretty good. And Dietrich’s an on-base guy and a good hitter.”
Consider: The Marlins’ record for highest on-base percentage in a season from their leadoff hitters came in 2000 when they reached base at a .402 clip. The cast of fill-ins who have replaced Gordon have done slightly better.
Mattingly said that when Gordon left the team, he weighed his options. Finding an on-base guy wasn’t as great a priority as creating balance in the lineup, he said, though that factored in his decision.
“It’s more about the balance of the order,” Mattingly said.
Mattingly said his first inclination was to go with Dietrich.
“He’s an on-base guy and a good hitter,” Mattingly said. “He was kind of our first choice. He seemed to fit the spot.”
Dietrich has a .420 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot.
Mattingly also knew he would use Ichiro, a natural leadoff hitter, in the No. 1 spot on the days he started the 42-year-old outfielder.
“I didn’t really think about Realmuto that much,” Mattingly said. “Then we got to talking and I said, ‘I’m going to put J.T. in that No. 1 hole, to see what he looks like.’ ”
Realmuto has reached base at a .375 clip from the leadoff spot.
“For me, I’m always trying, no matter where I’m hitting, to get on base,” Realmuto said. “I don’t walk a whole lot. But I try to get on base anyway I can, especially in the leadoff spot.”
The leadoff mix will change on July 28, the day Gordon is scheduled to return from his suspension. Gordon played in his first minor-league rehab games on Tuesday for Triple A New Orleans. He went 0 for 5 in two games of a doubleheader and left the second game early because of cramping.
▪ Realmuto tied the Marlins’ stolen base record for a catcher when he swiped his 10th base of the season. Ivan Rodriguez and Benito Santiago also stole 10 bags in a season.
▪ Thursday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (6-8, 4.68 ERA) at Philadelphia Phillies RHP Jerad Eickhoff (6-10, 3.76), 7:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park.
▪ Friday: Marlins LHP Adam Conley (6-5, 3.61) vs. New York Mets RHP Logan Verrett (3-6, 4.21), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.