The last-place Marlins (46-61) have the chance to play spoiler over the final two months, and they have done their part in the first two games of their series with the Mets (55-51). With the loss, the Mets' lead in the National League East is just 1 1/2 games over the Phillies (54-53). In the process, Miami also is holding auditions for players hoping to be part of the club in 2022 and beyond.
“As these guys keep working, we're starting to see the athleticism, the different things that -- when things are clicking on all cylinders -- this team is capable of doing,” acting manager James Rowson said.
For Jackson and De La Cruz -- and Díaz to an extent -- the final two months of this season are a chance for them to receive regular reps in the Majors. Jackson and Díaz have played sporadically in The Show; all three have proven themselves at Triple-A. Now comes time to do so at the highest level.
Jackson, making his second consecutive start for the Marlins since being acquired from the Braves for Adam Duvall at the Trade Deadline, sent a full-count splitter to straightaway center for a solo shot in the second. The dinger came in his 55th career plate appearance. Jackson appeared in just 19 games (14 starts) with the Braves from 2019-21, and gradually the former Top 100 Prospect had other backstops in the organization either blocking or surpassing him. At the time of the trade, Jackson had a slash line of .287/.366/.694 with a 1.060 OPS at Triple-A.
With three catchers on Miami’s active roster, the Marlins plan on giving Jackson looks -- several times a week, per GM Kim Ng -- while keeping Jorge Alfaro’s bat in the lineup by starting him in left field. Alfaro added a much-needed insurance run with an eighth-inning RBI double as the Mets scored in the ninth.
“That's huge,” Jackson said of consistent playing time. “That's the only way you get better at anything is by getting constant repetition, getting experience and failing. And the only way you can do that is if you're able to be in a situation, continue trying to battle through things, continue to grow. That's something that with more games, more experience, hopefully good things will continue to happen.”
Both Díaz and Neidert lost out on Opening Day roster spots out of Spring Training, but they find themselves earning opportunities due to injuries. With Jazz Chisholm Jr. placed on the IL prior to Tuesday’s game, Díaz got the nod at second base. Over his past nine games, he is batting .308 and has played solid defense at second and third. Miami recalled Neidert to join the rotation carousel with Pablo López, Elieser Hernandez and Cody Poteet sidelined. Though he had sporadic fastball command, Neidert was able to rely on his secondary offerings to limit the damage.
“It was a really good outing,” said Neidert, who was caught by former fellow Mariners farmhand Jackson. “I had a span there where everything was kind of clicking, and then I had moments where control kind of got away from me a little bit, walked some guys, got into some trouble. But defense played great, A-Jax called a great game back there, and it's a good team win.”
De La Cruz, picked up from the Astros in the Yimi García trade before the Deadline, had opened his MLB career 1-for-14 in his first four starts. He went 3-for-4 in his first multhit game on Tuesday. His third-inning, two-strike single drove in a pair with two outs. De La Cruz also put on a show in right field, firing a laser in the fourth to stop Jeff McNeil from coming home on a Javier Báez lineout and making an over-the-shoulder catch to rob James McCann of extra bases in the fifth.
A non-roster invitee to Houston’s big league camp in 2021, the 24-year-old De La Cruz was considered a depth piece in the organization. He was slashing .324/.362/.518 with an .880 OPS at Triple-A at the time of the trade. He now ranks as Miami’s 29th prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and is the starting right fielder.
Asked what the most noticeable difference has been between competition at the Minors and Majors, De La Cruz quipped: "You've got a pitcher that they're paying $20 million to get you out.”