WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The only question was whether it was going to stay fair. There was no doubt the ball was gone, long gone.
Lewis Brinson was able to keep it fair on a rewarding swing Tuesday in the Marlins’ 7-4 win over the Astros at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
With one out in the second inning, Brinson kept his hands in and drove an inside fastball by Astros right-hander Brandon Bielak over the wall of the left-field bullpen for a homer.
“That was a pretty swing,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “That ball stayed true, down the line like that. He pulled his hands in nice, and back-spun that ball. So that told you, a lot of good things went right to be able to do that without hooking it foul. That was good to see.”
Harold Ramirez followed with a blast, giving the Marlins’ back-to-back homers.
For Brinson, his first homer of Spring Training was a positive result for all the hard work he’s been doing to get his swing back on track.
“That’s kind of been my mentality this spring,” Brinson said. “I’m trying to hit as many barrels as possible, whether they are hits, or whether they’re outs. That wasn’t all barrel. But it felt good.”
Brinson added an infield single on a chopped grounder up the middle in the fourth inning, and along with many starters, exited after two at-bats.
A year ago, Brinson went the entire regular big league season without a home run in 75 big league games. In 81 games at Triple-A, he did hit 16 home runs.
Making hard contact was an issue for Brinson at the big league level in 2019. His hard-hit percentage, per Statcast, was 32.9 percent, after being 39.2 percent in 2018. Brinson’s average exit velocity was 86.1 mph a year ago, off the pace of 89.2 mph in ’18.
When you remind Brinson about a year ago, the 25-year-old says he’s already put it “on the back burner.”
“I feel like I’m a new guy,” Brinson said. “More professional. More prepared. That’s been the biggest thing so far. I know we’ve only played four games but I’m very prepared. I don’t feel like I’m going up there blind, like some games last year.
“I feel very prepared and very trusting of what I’ve been working on. It’s going to apply well in the game.”
Prospects inspire another comeback
Jerar Encarnacion, the Marlins’ No. 17 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has game-changing power. In the ninth inning, the 22-year-old outfielder blistered a two-out, three-run home run that snapped a 4-4 tie. Veteran Ryan Lavarnway had a single in the inning, and No. 4 prospect Jazz Chisholm drew a two-out walk, setting up Encarnacion’s blast to left.
“Well, Jerar’s [power] is off the charts,” Mattingly said. “Because it’s the oppo-power. [That’s what] his thing will be, as he gets older, and more experience. He is basically, middle of the field, right-field, which is always a great place to start. When he hits them, they stay hit. This is a big strong kid. He’s young, and coming quickly. Just let him play.”
"When you have kids with talent, they want to show you they can play. And they're not afraid. That's what happens. You get good, young players that are talented and confident. They want to show you what they can do. So, I think we're seeing a little bit of that.” -- Mattingly said after his club improved to 4-0 in the Grapefruit League.
Right-hander Ryan Cook, a non-roster invitee, is dealing with a bruised right toe, and Mattingly said he is expected to be in a walking boot for about a week.
The Marlins are back at Jupiter on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET, but this time as the road team against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Pablo López, a right-hander who made 21 starts last year, will get the start for Miami. López is regarded as one of four starters who already are projected as locks for the rotation. Many of the Miami veteran regulars, like third baseman Brian Anderson and center fielder Jonathan Villar, are expected to play. Left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim is scheduled to start for St. Louis. The game can be streamed on Gameday Audio.