Fish Bytes

Baseball-smart Marlin turns to ‘tools of ignorance’

Miami Marlins catcher Austin Nola tosses the ball to home during a spring training baseball workout Sat., Feb. 18, 2017, in Jupiter, Fla.
Miami Marlins catcher Austin Nola tosses the ball to home during a spring training baseball workout Sat., Feb. 18, 2017, in Jupiter, Fla. AP

It has been more than five decades since major-league brothers worked as battery mates — pitcher and catcher. Larry and Norm Sherry were the last to do it in 1955.

A lot would have to happen for there to be another pitcher-catcher brother combination. But as long as the Nola brothers are around — Marlins minor-league prospect Austin and Philadelphia Phillies starter Aaron — the possibility exists.

First, though, Austin Nola has to make a successful conversion from infielder to catcher, an experiment that has worked once before for the Marlins when they drafted J.T. Realmuto as an infielder and turned him into a catcher. And then the would have to land in the same organization.

For now, Austin Nola is concentrating on the first part of the equation.

“It’s a big transition for sure,” said Nola, a fifth-round draft pick for the Marlins out of LSU in 2012.

Nola was a middle infielder his first five minor-league seasons, eventually advancing to Triple A New Orleans but hitting just .244 over that span. Late last season, though, the Marlins decided it was time for a change and asked Nola if he would try his hand behind the plate.

Now 27, Nola’s best chance of reaching the majors might be as a catcher, more than likely as a backup.

“We felt like he already knew the ins and outs of being a utility [infield] player, so we literally wanted to put another glove in his bag,” said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations.

Nola began the transition during the Arizona Fall League and received private instruction from his brother over the winter. Though Aaron doesn’t catch, he understands the demands of the role from a pitcher’s perspective.

“He’s helped me a lot to learn how to communicate with the pitchers, how to talk to them. So that was big,” Austin Nola said.

Nola said he and his brother threw to him “a lot.”

This spring, Nola has worked exclusively behind the plate. He has not taken a single ground ball in the infield.

On Wednesday, he received his first spring start behind the plate, receiving rave reviews from starting pitcher Tom Koehler.

“It was impressive,” Koehler said. “For me to feel comfortable, throwing to a guy I’ve ever seen squat before, speaks volumes to the work he’s been doing.”

Everyone in the organization — from teammates on up to front-office officials and manager Don Mattingly — rave about Nola’s baseball smarts.

“Austin Nola is one of those high-baseball-IQ-kind of players who understands every aspect of the game,” Hill said.

Said Mattingly: “He’s one of those guys you don’t underestimate because they understand show to play, and that’s a good thing.”

The Marlins are so confident in Nola’s skills that they placed him on their 40-man roster for the first time.

“That was us showing our confidence in him, to let him know wherever he ends up catching, it’s not as important as him getting comfortable with that craft,” Hill said.

It’s expected that Nola will start the season at Double A Jacksonville so that he can concentrate on learning a new position.

“I’m just going to have fun with it,” Nola said. “I just want to add another tool and be able to use it. I’m actually really enjoying it.”

METS TOP MARLINS

Dan Straily gave up a tape-measure home run to Yoenis Cespedes in Thursday’s 11-6 loss to the Mets. The ball sailed over the batter’s eye in center.

Straily was able to smile about it afterward.

The reason? He fed Cespedes four consecutive fastballs, something he wouldn’t think of doing in a real game.

“Come on, I played with the guy too long to know what he does,” said Straily, who was Cespedes’ teammate in Oakland. “I played with these guys way too long to know what happens when you throw Cespedes four straight fastballs.”

COMING UP

▪ Friday: Marlins LHP Justin Nicolino vs. Washington Nationals RHP A.J. Cole, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.

▪ Saturday: Marlins RHP Jake Esch at Atlanta Braves RHP R.A. Dickey, 1:05 p.m., Lake Buena Vista.

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