Aggressive Dickerson a threat on basepaths

Bleier's once-crisp cutter resulting in home runs

April 18th, 2021

MIAMI -- Early this season, has looked more and more like the player the Marlins signed to a two-year deal in January 2020. Never has it been more evident than during Saturday night's 7-6 walk-off win over the Giants at loanDepot park.

Dickerson, who recorded his first four-hit game with the ballclub, was aggressive not only at the plate but on the bases. He picked up hits in each of his first four at-bats on just seven pitches. In the second inning, Dickerson stole his first base of 2021, equaling his total in each of the past two seasons. In 2018, he collected a career-high-tying eight with the Pirates.

The 31-year-old Dickerson made a conscious effort to bring back that element of his game. Over the winter, he focused on building leg strength and maintaining it over the course of a 162-game season.

"I've always been aggressive," Dickerson said during Spring Training. "I've always pushed the issue a lot, and in my career, [I] got a lot of doubles out of things like that. But last year, my legs weren't where I wanted them to be. I had a lot of groin issues, a lot of things bugging me, and this year, I wanted to kind of build a good foundation. I felt like I can ... use some athleticism out on the bags."

According to Statcast, his sprint speed decreased from 27.6 feet per second to 27 feet per second, which is league average, from 2019-20. So far in 2021, he is back at 27.6 feet per second.

But it's not just about speed. During a nine-year career, Dickerson was known for taking the extra base. In 2020, he recorded the second-lowest percentage of his career (36 percent); he is already at a career-high 67 percent through 14 games. The league team average is 39 percent.

In Wednesday's win in Atlanta, Dickerson went from first to third on Starling Marte's single to left field, capitalizing on Marcell Ozuna's weak arm. Dickerson then easily scored when Jesús Aguilar followed with an RBI single.

"What helps me as a baseball player is, before the game, knowing that I can affect the game in multiple ways -- defensive side of the ball, stealing a bag, scoring runs, getting on base, not just focusing on hitting," Dickerson said following Saturday's walk-off win. "I think whenever I go out there aggressively to be able to affect a game in so many different ways, I always like to say, 'Count the positives.' If I have more positives than negatives that day, I had a good day. I try to keep it in perspective when I go out there and try to impact the game in multiple ways. That's when I feel like I'm at my best."

Keeping the ball in the park
Before Saturday night's rally, left-hander Richard Bleier surrendered a go-ahead three-run shot to right-handed pinch-hitter Austin Slater on a middle-middle 87.5 mph cutter in the seventh. It came on a 2-1 pitch.

Being hurt by the long ball has been an early-season trend for Bleier, who has given up four homers -- three on the cutter -- to his 27 batters faced. He didn't allow a long ball in 16 2/3 combined innings with the Orioles and Marlins in 2020. He has permitted no more than six in a season in his six-year career.

In 2020, Bleier's cutter averaged 88.2 mph. This season it is at 86.4 mph through eight outings. He is also using it more, going from 18.8 to 30.8 percent.

"Richard got hurt with his cutter again, and it's one of the things I think we'll have to be talking about," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "We really want him to throw the ball on the ground. ... This guy's one of the top ground-ball guys in the game last year. Just want to make sure he stays with his strengths."

Bleier's ground-ball rate has dropped from 70.6 percent in 2020 to 47.8 in 2021. His fly ball rate has increased from 2 percent to 26.1.