PHILADELPHIA -- Marlins outfielder JJ Bleday is a man of his word.
While Bleday watched footage of Phillies pitchers in preparation for Tuesday’s series opener, his girlfriend Emily Mathewson requested a homer to right field, where 75 family members and friends would be sitting.
Bleday delivered in his fourth-inning at-bat, sending a Zack Wheeler fastball into the first few rows in right field for a then-game-tying homer in the Marlins' 4-1 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
“You can't write it any better than that,” Mathewson told MLB.com. “He's like, ‘I'm feeling a good oppo home run.’ I'm like, ‘No, no, we're in right tonight.’ He's like, ‘OK, I'll get it done for you.’”
As Bleday rounded first base, he pointed in the direction of Sections 105 and 106, where his contingent sat cheering him on. It was a spot in the ballpark where Mathewson and Co. could get the majority of their tickets together, and it had the added benefit of being in a location where the left-handed Bleday hits most of his homers.
The group wore matching gray shirts with Marlins on the front and "Bleday" on the back, along with his No. 67, eschewing their typical Phillies gear in order to support the 24-year-old prospect who was born in Danville, Pa. Philadelphia fans are some of the most loyal in sports, but not for this series.
“It's not easy at all, but they did it tonight,” Bleday said of the allegiance.
The ball landed in a crowd of Phillies fans. Josh, a close friend who works for Mathewson's uncle, sprung into action and offered $100 for the ball. The fan countered with $200 and it was a done deal. Once Josh received the ball, he handed it to Mathewson as a souvenir.
Mathewson and Bleday met at Vanderbilt, where they played lacrosse and baseball, respectively. Mathewson, who is from Philadelphia, is in dental school at Temple University, so she has had to watch Bleday’s big league games from afar -- outside of his debut in Pittsburgh, his first game in Miami and most weekend series.
“He hasn't been up too long, but even then, it hasn't quite hit me yet just because I feel like I come home from school and I watch his games anyway,” Mathewson said. “The only difference is I'm not plugging in my iPad and doing all that. This has just been surreal. I've been coming to this stadium since I was a girl, and to see him play out there, it's so awesome. He's such a deserving guy, he's earned every bit of it. I'm so happy for him.”
So what is Mathewson going to do with the ball?
“I'm going to have him sign it,” Mathewson said. “I have a couple of others, but I think I kind of want to keep this one. I don't even know if he knows that we have it right now.”
What about Josh, who dished out the cash for the keepsake?
“Have to talk to JJ about that,” Mathewson said. “It was just so thoughtful. We’ll have to pay him back somehow.”
Bleday’s home run swing came on a 93.2 mph middle-middle four-seamer mere hours after the Marlins' No. 5 prospect sat at his locker watching footage of Wheeler on his iPad. Bleday was called out on strikes in his first at-bat and walked in his third plate appearance. He struck out swinging against reliever David Robertson in the eighth.
“He kind of went with that same sequence second AB,” Bleday said of the homer. “He went that cutter inside, and then left that fastball a little out over the plate. I was happy with it, put a good swing on it.”
Through his first 16 MLB games, Bleday is slashing .218/.283/.382 with three doubles, two homers, five walks and 19 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances.
Of late, Bleday has been staying on the heater, hoping to push the pitcher out over the plate for a mistake. That’s exactly what he did on Tuesday. Bleday also has focused on trusting his approach, being aggressive and not trying to do too much.
“I've said a number of times JJ puts good at-bats together, and really, it's going to be a matter of shortening the route and really just tightening up his swing to a point, because he gets himself good pitches to hit, he's not a big chase [guy],” manager Don Mattingly said. “He's just got to be able to finish at-bats when he gets pitches to hit. You don't want to foul those back.
“I think JJ is in a pretty good spot as far as the way he's looked. Again, what I'm going to look at -- and I think our hitting guys look at -- is what kind of at-bats does he have and is he putting at-bats together? And then you figure out, how do you help him just small changes? That's really going to make a huge difference for him.”