MIAMI -- A week before the Trade Deadline, a trio of coveted Marlins made some noise at the plate in a 5-2 loss to the Padres on Friday night at loanDepot park.
Center fielder Starling Marte reached three times, right fielder Adam Duvall went 2-for-4 with his team-leading 22nd homer and first baseman Jesús Aguilar produced an RBI double. Marte, Aguilar and Duvall -- batters three through five in the heart of the order -- combined to reach base six times, but the rest of the lineup did so only five times in 24 plate appearances.
The reality is Miami (41-57) has dropped seven of nine to open the second half, and has fallen to 12 games back in the National League East. Productive veterans with expiring contracts appeal to contending teams down the stretch. Marte provides an enticing blend of power (seven homers) and speed (19 stolen bases), while Aguilar and Duvall are the top run producers in the NL.
“I try to stay away from that,” said Duvall, who was dealt around the Deadline in 2015 and ‘18. “I try to maintain focus on just coming in, getting my work in and trying to win a ballgame. I've been traded before. You're at the ballpark one second, and the next thing, you're packing your bag, so there's nothing to really prepare for or nothing really to think about.
“It's more so just staying focused and showing up and playing hard and trying to win ballgames. That's what I'm going to do. I don't put much emphasis on trying to keep up with the rumors and what have you. I like to stay focused on my work and just enjoy playing the game.”
Duvall, Miami's lone offensive addition over the offseason, signed a one-year deal worth $5 million for 2021. He has a $7 million mutual option for '22, with a $3 million buyout. Primarily a left fielder in his eight-year career, Duvall has been one of the best in right this season with eight defensive runs saved (second in the Majors). Duvall, who turns 33 in September, also has appeared in center eight times.
Marte, who can become a free agent for the first time in his career following the season, could command a lucrative multiyear deal in a weaker market. Prior to the All-Star break, both the 32-year-old and the club expressed interest in keeping the former All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner in Miami for the foreseeable future.
Aguilar, who is making $4.3 million this season, has one more year of arbitration eligibility. But he is blocking sixth-ranked prospect Lewin Díaz, who has 14 homers at Triple-A Jacksonville and another two in 17 MLB plate appearances in 2021. The Marlins would like for the 24-year-old Díaz to get everyday reps to see what he can do before the '22 season. The club did the same with fifth-ranked prospect Jesús Sánchez before he landed on the injured list for an undisclosed reason on July 16. If the universal designated hitter returns in '22, though, Aguilar would be the perfect candidate.
On the other side of the coin, inexperienced players are receiving opportunities that could sway the big league club to make them part of its plans in 2022. Zach Thompson was the third straight rookie right-hander to start for the Marlins, giving up three runs in five innings.
“Consistency is great,” said Thompson, who lost 10 pounds before the All-Star break while sick. “The more I can be out there, the more routine I can get into, the more I can kind of figure out what things work for me, what things don't. It's definitely nice, and I can start looking back on my data that I've had for every previous start, and start forming a routine. It just brings a lot of confidence, the more you're out here, the more you can keep throwing and keep on a consistent basis. It really just helps out a lot.”
In the bullpen, left-hander Steven Okert and right-hander Zach Pop pitched in pivotal moments. Okert, a Minor League signing during Spring Training who last appeared in The Show in 2018, retired Trent Grisham and Tommy Pham to finish off the seventh.
Pop, who went 23 months between outings because of Tommy John surgery and the COVID-19 pandemic, came on in relief in the eighth inning with a pair of runners in scoring position and one out. He induced a grounder to first base off the bat of Wil Myers, but Aguilar's throw home got away from catcher Sandy León and permitted two runs to score.
“We're bringing Zach Pop into a tough spot, a Rule 5 guy that's gaining some valuable experience and getting big outs,” manager Don Mattingly said. “See Okert get us big outs. Seeing a number of guys getting us innings and keeping the game in check.”