Cooper finds it best to stay fresh in DH role

Two-run homer caps Marlins' big 3rd, supports López's strong start vs. Rockies

June 23rd, 2022

MIAMI -- Garrett Cooper has been an extremely vocal supporter of the universal designated hitter for years. When Major League Baseball was deciding whether to bring it back in 2021 after its introduction in the COVID-19-impacted ‘20 season, the Marlins constructed their roster believing both Cooper and Jesús Aguilar could be in the lineup every day between DH and first base.

That didn’t happen, so Cooper split time in right field (39 games) and first base (15 games). He wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer because of a fluke collision while playing first base. He had an .845 OPS at the time.

With the implementation of the universal DH in 2022, some National League clubs have been able to use that spot to keep their regulars fresh. Manager Don Mattingly isn’t able to do that as much for corner outfielders Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García because of Cooper and Aguilar taking turns.

Serving as the DH in Wednesday night’s 7-4 victory over the Rockies, Cooper belted a two-run homer to straightaway center in a go-ahead four-run third inning at loanDepot park. Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Soler also went back-to-back in the seventh to support Pablo López, who allowed just one unearned run over seven frames.

“I think it's huge, not just for me, but everyone else who gets those days to DH,” Cooper said. “Only DH, I can concentrate on one thing, and I feel like that's my best thing on the field. I spend a lot of time in the cage and on the field hitting, so I think it's -- knock on wood -- kept me fresh every time in the box. So, that's all I can ask for.”

Cooper, who also singled in the seventh, tallied the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning of Tuesday night's 9-8 win while playing first base. There aren’t many hotter bats in the Majors this month. In June, Cooper is now 26-for-66 (.394) with eight runs scored, five doubles, two homers and 13 RBIs. His average trails just the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez (.443) and the Phillies’ Bryce Harper (.400).

The 31-year-old has hit safely in all but two of his 16 games, with nine multihit contests. In the first All-Star Game ballot update, he ranked ninth among NL DHs.

“I think both of those guys, you see them, they use the whole field,” Mattingly said of Cooper and Aguilar. “They're capable of taking their hits when that's what the situation calls for as far as the way the guy's pitching them or whatever. I look at both of them kind of in the same way, that they're hit first, power comes with it.”

Figuring out a DH routine has been a trial-and-error approach, per Cooper. In 2020, when the universal DH debuted, Cooper slashed .288/.347/.500 in 72 plate appearances across 18 games. He only started at DH twice in ‘21 during Interleague contests.

Including Wednesday, Cooper is .293/.356/.467 with an .823 OPS, five doubles, one triple, three homers and 10 RBIs in 26 games as the DH this season compared to .317/.390/.450 with an .840 OPS, 10 doubles, two homers and 20 RBIs in 32 games as a first baseman.

Hitting coach Marcus Thames, who was a DH 177 times during his playing career and also served as an American League coach, has been a valuable resource. He also helped Giancarlo Stanton transition to DH full time when he joined the Yankees.

“I just tell guys to make sure that you're not just swinging, swinging, swinging, because sometimes DH guys think, ‘I just need to hit, hit, hit, hit, hit,’” Thames told a small group of reporters last month. “Sometimes you have to get away from it. Don't go watch video all the time. Go stretch, watch the game, so it feels like you're still in the game. Because I did it when I played, and I actually got that from David Ortiz when he was in Boston.

“He's like, ‘Papi, you just can't go and hit, hit, hit. You've got to find a routine that works for you.’ Each guy's different. For me, just making sure that you're staying in the game mentally. If you do that, it'll help you out a little bit more.”

What also helps is bench coach James Rowson sending out the next day’s lineup so players have an idea of what to expect. The only thing that changes for Cooper is the number of ground balls he would take: He spends more time in the cage and less on the field as the DH.

“There's a lot of season and you can overswing and overdo things in the box, and you don't want to swing too much during games because you start working on different things and you start guessing and it puts you in a bad spot sometimes,” Cooper said. “It's more so just getting your swings in early in the game and then just letting it go.”