MIAMI — With Starling Marte landing on the injured list with a left rib fracture, the Marlins intend on giving Lewis Brinson the bulk of the center-field reps. The club recalled Brinson from the alternate training site ahead of Tuesday night’s game against the Orioles at loanDepot park. He was batting eighth in the order, with shortstop Miguel Rojas moving up to Marte’s No. 2 spot in the lineup.
“Going to start with Lew, giving him the first shot,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said during a Zoom call. “He’s a guy that really has made big strides. We feel like [he] deserves that opportunity to see what he can kind of do against right and left. Still be mixing and matching; I could see [Magneuris Sierra] out there, I could see [Jon Berti] out there to keep guys in our lineup and keep them playing. But to start off with, I think Lew is kind of at that point where it’s like, ‘Let’s see what Lew can do.'”
Beginning in August 2020, the Marlins used the right-handed-hitting Brinson in a platoon with left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce because of their splits. Brinson slashed .260/.315/.480 with a .795 OPS in 54 plate appearances against southpaws and just .196/.224/.268 with a .492 OPS vs. righties. There was tangible improvement with a refined swing. It carried over into this Spring Training, where Brinson posted an .827 OPS. Now comes the true test in regular-season games on a daily basis.
When Miami optioned Brinson on April 11 because it needed an extra arm in case of inclement weather in New York (that game against the Mets was suspended in the first inning), it left the bench short with just four players. Brinson was hitless in eight at-bats, with just one start.
“I think first and foremost for me was just the mechanics of it,” Mattingly said. He was at a point mechanically where it just wasn’t going to work. He made huge strides last year getting off that backside where you have more length in his swing to cover more pitches. … When we sent Lew out, I told him, I said, ‘I think if you were at this point with your swing when you started, he would have had a lot more success with the amount of playing time that he had,’ and I think we’re there.
“The timing wasn’t great when we signed [Adam Duvall] and we got [Garrett Cooper] and Marte for this year, but here’s the opportunity to see if it works against right and left. We know it worked against left last year, we’ve seen that. So now it’s get some opportunities to see if it can work against both.”
Other options in center field include the left-handed-hitting Sierra, who like Brinson, made the Opening Day roster as a reserve outfielder, but he has played sparingly. Sierra is 1-for-7 with three runs and one stolen base. Most of his appearances have come as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner. When Marte fractured his pinkie in the 2020 postseason, Sierra started the next four games in his place and went 3-for-11 with a double and an RBI. Berti, who has 30 career games (22 starts) in center, is the club’s only backup middle infielder and third baseman.
Corey Dickerson and Duvall are better suited as corner outfielders. Dickerson has played 27 games in center, but none since 2015. Duvall appeared in center for one inning with the Braves last season. The Marlins already have a rotation of Dickerson, Duvall and Cooper depending on whether there’s a righty or lefty starter on the mound, and in order to get everyone consistent at-bats and keep them healthy.
This situation arrives after an MRI on Monday revealed Marte sustained a non-displaced fracture in his 12th rib (left side). He will refrain from activity for five to seven days before being re-evaluated, which will better help determine a time frame for his return. Marte, who had started all 15 games in center field this season, exited during his ninth-inning at-bat in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Giants.
“You know in general, I still think it sounds more like an oblique, or that same injury,” Mattingly said. “I don’t know what they all look like, but we’ll just see. Hopefully, it’s shorter. We know it’s going to be at least the 10 days of an IL, so I don’t know how much further we know past that. But I guess these first five to seven days will tell us a lot.”