The Marlins finished last in the Majors in home runs in 2019. They intend to do something about that in the abbreviated 60-game season.
New bench coach James Rowson and hitting coach Eric Duncan are preaching for the players to be in an attack mode. They did exactly that in the third inning of Tuesday's 10-9 exhibition loss to the Braves at Truist Park, connecting on three straight home runs.
“Thankfully, it's still a game that doesn't count on the record,” manager Don Mattingly said. “But something that we're just not going to watch, the walks.”
The long ball rescued the Marlins in the ninth, when outfield prospect Jesús Sánchez (No. 4 in Miami’s system per MLB Pipeline) crushed a game-tying home run to right field. Statcast tracked Sánchez’s homer at 416 feet, with an exit speed of 101.9 mph.
“Good for him,” Mattingly said. “That was a long one. That's a look for things to come. We did a lot of talking early about our system, and what we thought it was going to look like moving through. Sanchey is one of those guys that we know is on the verge. Obviously, it's good to see.”
The Marlins had the game seemingly in hand, up 8-1 heading into the eighth, but Atlanta rallied with eight runs to claim a one-run lead.
Matt Adams delivered a two-out walk-off blast off No. 27 prospect Alex Vesia. A non-roster invitee, Vesia hadn’t allowed a run in 42 consecutive innings, including stints at Class A Advanced Jupiter, Double-A Jacksonville, the Arizona Fall League and this past Spring Training.
“Obviously, that's something that has plagued us last year, the walks,” Mattingly said. “It's something that we addressed all spring and we'll continue to address. That's not something we'll put up with this year, not throwing strikings and giving free bases in those situations.”
Letting a large lead slip away raises questions about the bullpen, but Mattingly noted that late-inning roles weren’t set up. Also, because it was raining lightly early, they used Brandon Kintzler and Yimi García so they’d get their work. Had the score remained tied after nine innings, the teams wouldn't have played a 10th to preserve pitching.
But in terms of the offense, the exhibition was encouraging, because the lineup did damage.
“The back-to-back-to-backs get us rolling,” Mattingly said. “But then I thought we did a nice job of stringing some hits together, adding on and continuing to play. Just different guys getting hits, and having guys out there.”
Wasting no time, Alfaro jumped on a first-pitch curveball and blistered it over the wall in left field. Two pitches later, Rojas’ drive to left came on an 0-1 curveball. Villar jumped on a first-pitch slider and drove a long home run to center.
Just once in their regular-season history have the Marlins hit three straight homers. According to Elias Sports Bureau, they did so on Aug. 26, 1998, at St. Louis (Derrek Lee, Cliff Floyd and Kevin Orie).
“I think it's good, because they went to home plate being ready,” Villar said. “Rojas told me, ‘You've got to swing at the first pitch, too.’”
According to Statcast, Alfaro’s homer had an exit velocity of 107.5 mph, and it projected at 375 feet. Rojas’ blast left the bat at 99.7 mph and traveled 391 feet. Villar drove the ball 412 feet, with a 102.1 mph exit velocity.
The early run support was a relief for Marlins right-hander José Ureña, who worked three scoreless innings, allowing two hits, two walks and a strikeout.
"I felt good," said Ureña, who is projected as the No. 3 starter. "Everything was going well. It's more exciting when you get some runs."
Upgrading the offense was the highest offseason priority.
Villar, Dickerson and Aguilar combined to go 6-for-12 with two runs and four RBIs. Adding a speed/power dimension, Villar had three hits, two runs scored and a stolen base.
“For now, I see a lot of good things,” Villar said. “We've got good teammates. Everybody is ready to play the season. They know that this is Spring Training right now.”