Mattingly: 'This is an easy group to trust'

September 21st, 2020

Overcoming long odds is nothing new for the resilient Marlins.

The club went through an early-season COVID-19 outbreak and persevered, despite making 167 roster moves, to be in playoff contention.

With so much at stake, is manager Don Mattingly planning on delivering any inspirational speeches to the club during this pivotal week?

“There’s no message for these guys right now,” Mattingly said on Monday. “They know where they’re at. They’ve put themselves in good position.”

Aiming to reach the postseason for the first time since 2003, the Marlins have a difficult road ahead, with four games scheduled with the National League East-leading Braves followed by a weekend series to end the regular season at the playoff-bound Yankees.

“This is an easy group to trust,” Mattingly said. “They get ready to play. They bounce back.”

The Marlins entered the series at Atlanta one game ahead of the Phillies for second place in the NL East. Miami’s magic number to clinch second ahead of Philadelphia is six due to a season-series tiebreaker edge. Head to head, the Marlins went 7-3 against the Phillies.

The task is more challenging to catch the Braves, who entered Monday with a three-game lead over the Marlins. Miami would have to win at least three, and most likely need a four-game sweep to realistically catch Atlanta.

Should the Braves win at least two games in the series, based on a tie-breaker edge (better divisional record), they would finish ahead of the Marlins.

“No message needed,” Mattingly said. “Our message the whole time is, ‘Just get ready to play.’ This is the kind of baseball that you just have to be ready to play.”

Coop’s adjustments
Designated hitter/first baseman ’s increased production can be traced to his offseason work and the refinements he has made to his swing during Spring Training and Summer Camp.

Listed at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, Cooper is one of the more imposing players in Miami's lineup. A change this year is he’s hitting the ball with more authority, and he has seen increases in his average exit velocity and launch angle.

Cooper’s average exit speed on balls in play is 90.1 mph, up from 89.1 mph in 2019. He’s evaluating the ball more as well, seeing an increased launch angle to 8 degrees, compared to 4 degrees a year ago.

“Singles are great and stuff,” Cooper said, “but as a big man, you’re expected -- and that’s your job -- to hit some doubles and some home runs.”

Cooper notes that in the offseason, he tinkered with his swing, putting more weight on his back hip.

“I really put emphasis on not trying to leak a little too much on my front side,” Cooper said. “It allows me to have a lot more space, especially on the pitches inside.”

The adjustments have produced some telling results, especially on Cooper handling pitches on the inner half of home plate. According to Statcast, in his hitting zone charts this year, Cooper’s average exit velocity on pitches inside and over the plate – are 95.5 mph (up and in), 96.9 mph (middle and in) and 99.4 mph (low and in). Last year, in those three parts of the zone, his average exit velocities were 78.6 mph (up and in), 91 mph (middle and in) and 96.5 mph (down and in).

“I think I’ve hit a few homers to left this year that normally last year, I may have got jammed or not hit them with the authority that I wanted,” Cooper said.

Roster moves
The Marlins optioned right-hander and returned left-hander to the alternate training site on Monday. The club also selected the contract of right-hander from the ATS.

Garrett, Miami’s No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, went 1-1 with a 5.87 ERA in two big league starts. The lefty was hit hard in Sunday’s 15-0 loss to the Nationals in Game 2 of a doubleheader. In 2 2/3 innings, he allowed five runs (four earned) with two homers. In his first outing, Garrett gave up one run in five innings for the win over the Phillies on Sept. 13.

The Marlins’ first-round Draft pick in 2016, Garrett averaged 89.6 mph on his fastball in two starts, according to Statcast. Opponents were 7-for-15 (.467) off the pitch, with a 1.133 slugging percentage. But against his curveball, which is a plus pitch, batters were 1-for-12 (.091).

Without an overpowering fastball, Mattingly said Garrett will need to rely on a four-pitch mix as his career progresses.

“I think he’s never been a 93-94-95 [mph] guy,” Mattingly said. “It’s been more 91-92. This type of season doesn’t help that, necessarily. But Brax is going to be a guy who is going to be able to locate with his stuff, and be able to get numerous pitches over.”