Gurriel's 4-for-4 night boosts Marlins in more ways than one

Former AL batting champ excels vs. Rockies, ignites hit parade in win

May 25th, 2023

DENVER --  was in a bad place at the plate. The former Gold Glove Award-winning catcher is a defense-first backstop who had a career .665 OPS entering this season, but he was hitting just .127 through 23 games for the Marlins in 2023.

Then  pulled him aside and talked with him about the position of his hands while he’s hitting.

“He just kind of grabs you one-on-one,” Stallings said. “We all really respect him and just kind of gravitate towards him. … And if you’re having a rough day, [he] just says, ‘Hey, stick with it. Stick with it. You’re good. Keep going.’”

Stallings and the Marlins stuck with it after dropping four of the first five games on their 10-game road trip. It paid off: Stallings’ pair of doubles on Wednesday night represented two of the Marlins’ 14 hits in a 10-2 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field.

Gurriel led the way by going 4-for-4 with a triple and three singles, the second of which broke the ice after the club had gone 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position to that point in the series. It was Gurriel’s two-out grounder into center field in the fourth inning that brought in Miami’s first run of the game, tying the score.

“That was a huge hit,” Stallings said. “It was kind of a sigh of relief that we were able to get that one across.”

Much as the smoke from Canadian wildfires that had engulfed the Denver area for days cleared out just before first pitch, the fog Marlins hitters were in at the plate seemed to lift after Gurriel delivered.

A double-steal of second and home later that frame, then a Jon Berti sacrifice fly and a two-run double by Luis Arraez in the fifth gave Miami a 5-1 advantage. Stallings produced a sac fly of his own in the sixth, which was followed by an opposite-field homer from the newest Marlin, center fielder Jonathan Davis, to make it 7-1.

Jorge Soler continued his red-hot stretch at the plate, launching a towering solo homer in the seventh, his 14th of the season and his ninth in his last 19 games. Later that inning, Joey Wendle belted a two-run double to left to cap the offensive outburst.

But it all began with Gurriel, who is 7-for-8 in the series. His contributions on the field and off of it have clearly been impactful for his new team.

“To have a guy with his pedigree -- he’s been on winning teams, he’s won a batting title -- I’ve just really been impressed with the pro that he is,” Wendle said. “He’s here, he gets his work in, he knows how to take care of his body [even at] 38 years old.”

Prior to signing a Minor League deal with the Marlins in March, Gurriel had only known one Major League team, a team he helped win two World Series titles during his seven seasons with the organization. The Astros’ rise coincided with his own after he defected from Cuba in his early 30s and signed with Houston.

Gurriel posted career bests in home runs (31) and OPS (.884) in 2019, but struggled in the pandemic-shortened ’20 campaign. He bounced back, winning the American League batting title by hitting .319 in ’21. Then he regressed again last season, finishing with a .647 OPS in 146 games.

Houston decided to part ways with the popular veteran first baseman, known affectionately as “La Piña,” or “pineapple” for his hair style. The Astros inked free agent first baseman Jose Abreu to a three-year deal, but Abreu has been one of the league’s worst hitters to this point in the season, still without a home run through 48 games.

Meanwhile, Gurriel is slashing .291/.330/.427 with three homers in 112 plate appearances, most of which have been sporadic throughout the season, though many while starting first baseman Garrett Cooper was sidelined with an ear infection. 

“It’s hard [to get him into the lineup] because he plays first,” manager Skip Schumaker said. “You’ve got Cooper there, who was an All-Star last year, [but] we’re going to try to be as creative as we can, because that bat -- for me -- is real, and our staff loves him in our lineup.”

Cooper continues to struggle at the plate: He went 0-for-5 on Wednesday and is 3-for his past-33. 

Whatever the immediate future holds for Gurriel, one thing is certain: he’ll make sure he -- and everyone around him -- is ready.