Offense first: Duvall gets 1st start in CF

April 26th, 2021

With three starting position players on the injured list and the lineup struggling to score runs, the Marlins may temporarily sacrifice defense for offense.

Such was the case in Sunday afternoon's 4-3 loss to the Giants at Oracle Park, where started in center field for the first time in his eight-year career and Corey Dickerson and Garrett Cooper were inserted into the corner spots. The trio went 3-for-10, as Miami dropped three of four to open a 10-game trip.

By starting an outfield of Dickerson, Duvall and Cooper, Miami elected to run out its best available bats. Entering Sunday, Miami had been held to three or fewer hits in three of its last six games, going 2-4 in that span. On the season, the Marlins had averaged just 3.9 runs per game -- with 12-run and 14-run outbursts skewing that mark.

This week alone, Miami lost center fielder Starling Marte, third baseman Brian Anderson and catcher Jorge Alfaro to injuries. Reserve outfielders Lewis Brinson (2-for-13 with one walk in four games) and Magneuris Sierra (0-for-2 with two walks in one game) have started in Marte's place.

"I think it is something that we have to look at," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said following the game. "It's a catch-22 that we make ourselves a little different defensively in center, or you keep [Duvall] in right and play defense in center. Just something we'll look at, but obviously we're having a battle trying to put some runs on the board. That's kind of one of the possible solutions for that."

Miami's primary right fielder, Duvall made his only other appearance in center for one inning on Aug. 11, 2020, with Atlanta. He did not have any balls hit to him. The 32-year-old has been impressive in right so far this season, with an MLB-high-tying three assists, one out above average and a 100 percent success rate.

Duvall got consecutive chances in the third inning, making a jumping catch at the warning track in straightaway center for the second out, then racing down a liner in left-center by cutting in front of Dickerson. Both plays were considered routine by Statcast standards, but Duvall is a novice at the position. He stayed in center for the first seven innings before moving to right in the eighth after pinch-hitter Brinson remained in the game.

"I knew he hit it well, so I just turned around and took a route that I thought where it was going to land," Duvall said of his first play. "I just put my head down and tried to get to the spot where I thought it was going to be and looked up. I knew I was getting close to the wall because I had been on the track for a second, and luckily the wall's pretty soft out there. I was surprised when I bumped into it how forgiving it was out there, so thankfully for me that was good."

Without the benefit of the universal designated hitter, the Marlins have used an outfield rotation during the early part of 2021. With southpaw starters on the mound, the left-handed-hitting Dickerson tends to sit, with Duvall shifting from right to left and Cooper taking over in right. Cooper also sees time at first base to spell Jesús Aguilar. Duvall, whose sprint speed is in the 91st percentile, is the logical choice of that trio to play in center and cover ground.

"He looked fine," Mattingly said of Duvall. "As well as he runs and the way he looked in right, we felt like he could handle it. Gives us a chance to get him and Coop and Agui in the lineup together. I thought he was OK out there."