LOS ANGELES -- Before Tuesday night’s game at Dodger Stadium, Ketel Marte was focused on second base. Though he was familiar with the position, he hadn’t started there all season.
Manager Torey Lovullo said during his pregame Zoom call with reporters that Marte, who has started 70 games in center field this year, had been subtly hinting about wanting to play second base. The 27-year-old confirmed, describing himself as someone who is quiet in the clubhouse, but who wanted to make it known to his skipper that he wanted the opportunity to be at his natural position.
“I feel good. I continued taking reps at second base even though I wasn’t starting there at all this season,” Marte said in Spanish. “I continued training and putting the work in. Yesterday and the day before, I kept telling Torey that I wanted to play second. Now, I finally got the start.”
Despite a fielding error in the second inning, Marte provided some power in the seventh to make things exciting in Los Angeles. His three-run blast off Dodgers reliever Justin Bruihl put Arizona back in the game, but the D-backs couldn’t finish the threat in their 8-4 loss.
"It's probably like riding a bike for him,” said Lovullo. “There was one defensive miscue -- I think he just kind of sat back on the ball and was relying on his hands and his instincts, but his hands and feet moved together and I think everything got very firm and hard and the ball just beat him. Aside from that, I thought he did a very good job.”
Although he was switching from center field to second base, Marte didn’t think there was a correlation between defensive and offensive success. His .319 batting average while roaming the outfield and his three-hit night on Tuesday as the starting second baseman suggest he might be onto something.
Marte was one strike away from the D-backs going down empty-handed with runners on the corners. However, after seeing three offspeed pitches from Bruihl, he was ready for the cutter that was going to be in the lower part of the strike zone. Marte loaded his bat atop his right shoulder and timed his toe tap with Bruihl’s delivery.
The pitch was demolished 403 feet to center field with an exit velocity of 105.3 mph, per Statcast, for Marte’s 12th homer of the season. The quality of the at-bat, coupled with the situation, was something that Lovullo couldn’t help but marvel over.
Marte has battled back from two hamstring injuries this season, which has forced him to miss a substantial amount of time. Since his return to the lineup on Aug. 1, Marte has collected 42 hits with eight homers and 24 RBIs. While his production at the plate trends in the right direction, his defense is also showing how healthy he is.
"He can do some amazing things on the field at any time from any position,” Lovullo said. “Him remaining healthy is very important to his success, because when he is at 100 percent, his body moves efficiently to the baseball on defense. He puts himself in a very good hitting position on offense. He's a special player and he just continues to grow and get better day by day."
Marte’s offense was a bright spot as the D-backs were handed their 98th loss of the season, marking the first time they’ve reached that total since 2014. For Marte, however, he’s focused on how he can help the team win in the final two-plus weeks of the ‘21 slate.
He’ll be making more starts at second because of what he can do both offensively and defensively, but also because he put himself on the map.
“I think respect is earned and I think since I arrived here, I’ve gained Torey’s respect,” Marte said. “He knows I’m the type of person who doesn’t talk a lot, but when I do, thankfully, he hears me.”