Fortes shines in all facets in Marlins' third straight shutout

May 18th, 2024

MIAMI – Over the past two challenging seasons, has heard manager Skip Schumaker and field coordinator Rod Barajas reiterate "catch first, hit second."

In Friday night’s 8-0 Marlins victory over the Mets at loanDepot park, Fortes saw both elements of his game soar to new heights as Miami won its third in a row and four of five.

Not only did Fortes reach base a career-high-tying four times, he also navigated his third straight shutout, marking the third time in franchise history and first since 2005 that the Marlins achieved that feat. Per Elias Sports Bureau, their scoreless-innings streak of 28 is the longest in the Majors this season.

“Definitely most proud of the shutouts,” said Fortes, who became the first backstop in club history to catch three shutouts in a row. “I think it's a really cool accomplishment, and it's the No. 1 priority of my job. I take a lot of pride in that, so that's definitely the coolest part. But it was definitely nice to add the offense on top of that to help the team.”

Fortes entered the series opener slashing .127/.159/.190 with a -1 OPS+ in 32 games this season. He and Christian Bethancourt were on a historic pace -- and not the good kind. Miami’s catching OPS (.341) is the lowest in the Modern Era, dating back to 1901.

In a four-run second inning, Fortes sent a blooper just foul down the right-field line before lifting the next pitch -- a sweeper at the top of the zone -- over the left-field wall for a three-run homer. He also walked in the fourth and singled in the sixth and eighth. Fortes had just one multi-hit game before Friday.

“It's tough because I know that there's so much more in there for me, like I know I can do a lot better,” said Fortes, who has been working on staying longer through the middle to make more solid contact. “It's been frustrating, but I've definitely been putting the work in, and I think I'm starting to finally get to a point where I feel a little bit more comfortable. So hopefully I can continue to ride that a little bit. I'm just trying to keep my focus on our pitchers, which is what Skip has told me is the most important, which is what I know is the most important, so I'm really just trying to lean into that as much as I can.”

While Fortes hasn’t been productive at the plate, he has been behind the dish. His three blocks above average rank in the 89th percentile and his two caught stealing above average is in the 85th percentile.

But until left-handers , who tossed six innings on Friday in his 100th career outing, and Braxton Garrett returned from the injured list last weekend, Miami’s rotation was underperforming with the lowest fWAR (0.4) and the second-highest ERA (5.85) in the Majors. Since last Saturday, the unit is tied for the second-highest fWAR (0.9) and the fifth-lowest ERA (1.82).

“It's impressive that he's done that because he hasn't been hitting, so to separate the offense and the defense, I know it's not easy, and it's been crushing him, but for him to now catch three consecutive shutouts just shows you the 'care factor,'” Schumaker said. “He's really growing into catch first, hit second, like, ‘We need you to catch these guys to keep us in the game, and then the hitting is the hitting. We'll figure that out later,’ even though I know he really wants to hit.”

Luzardo has had a rough go in 2024 (5.02 ERA), but not in two starts since coming back (1.54 ERA, 15 K, BB). Through the good and the bad, Fortes has been there to steer all 39 of Luzardo’s starts since ‘23, when he broke out as a big leaguer.

“The way him and Betancourt handle the pitchers, the whole staff, I think is incredible,” said Luzardo, who picked up his first win of 2024. “They do such a good job. They do so much homework and [are] always prepared. So it's something that we always don't take for granted with them.

“But I can't speak highly enough about Nick. That's my guy, and we shoot each other straight when things are going south or going well, so I love the relationship that I have with him. I told him today before his at-bat, I said, ‘Hey, I feel a home run for you.’ And he kind of just laughed. And he went out and did it. So happy for him. He had a great game, and they've done a great job back there.”