Marlins ‘starting to really buy in’ with depth, sacrifice

Joey Wendle turned 32 on Tuesday, celebrated by hitting a game-winning home run against the Washington Nationals, and then shared some wisdom as the second-oldest player on the Miami Marlins’ roster.

With their inaugural win of the series at Nationals Park, the Marlins reached .500 for the first time this season and Wendle, who was a first-time All-Star last season and helped the Tampa Bay Rays win the MLB postseason in each of the last Reaching three years, considers it a key preseason feat due to the way Miami tries to win, particularly on offense: The 13 batsmen on the active roster have made just three All-Star appearances combined, and none was multiple MLB All-Star Games; 12 have played in at least nine games and 10 have already managed to start at least 11; Only one player has played in all 16 and neither has started every game.

“Everyone in this team is a role player,” said Wendle on Tuesday. “Some guys’ role is to drive the ball and get runs on the board, some guys’ role is to be solid defensively and play multiple positions. It’s something we’re slowly taking shape.

“We’re starting to really buy into ourselves.”

In 16 games, the Marlins averaged 4.00 runs per game — something they haven’t managed in a full 162 games since 2017, when outfielders Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich were still in Miami — and that at a time when the scoring is down nearly in half per game across MLB.

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Miami Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr., left, and Miami Marlins right fielder Jesus Sanchez celebrate after winning a baseball game against the Washington Nationals Tuesday, April 26, 2022 in Washington. Miami won 5-2. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Patrick Semansky AP

The star’s second baseman, Jazz Chisholm Jr., drives the team with a .673 slugging percentage — second best in the National League — and he’s struggled in seventh, eighth or ninth place in most of his games and gets frequently pitchers drawn against left-handed relief. Wendle leads the team with a .362 batting average and was primarily a bencher earlier in the year until Miguel Rojas missed three straight games with flu-like symptoms – the shortstop returned to the lineup in Washington on Wednesday and Wendle went from short to short third place ahead of base. Two other reserves — outfielders Jon Berti and Bryan De La Cruz — both have on-base plus slugging percentages greater than 1,000 while appearing in at least nine games.

“We had a plan,” manager Don Mattingly said on Tuesday. “Everyone’s interfering in some way right now.”

On Wednesday, Miami even benched Brian Anderson — who was the Marlins’ most valuable offensive player in the last five seasons, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s wins over substitutes — and the longtime third baseman was out on the starting lineup six times, even though he has the fifth best OPS on the team.

The flexibility comes from the Marlins’ off-season activity and the maturity of some former top prospects. Chisholm has become a star in his sophomore season with the majors, and outfielder Jesus Sanchez, also in his sophomore season, was one of Miami’s top hitters. General Manager Kim Ng complemented the young core with the addition of outfielders Jorge Soler and Avisail Garcia, who have struggled so far but are still close to daily games in the lineup given their track record as a former All-Star and reigning World Series Most Valuable Player Award Winner.

“We have guys on our bench who deserve to play,” said Wendle.

Rojas added: “I’ve been here a while and it’s never been like this.”

Rojas is the unofficial captain and more involved in organizational decisions than anyone else in the squad, and even he didn’t expect this look until spring training started and Anderson started working outfield just to find a more permanent role in a potential team improved lineup.

Despite some high-profile decisions to hit Chisholm with a right-hander late in the first two weeks of the season, Miami’s added depth hasn’t really manifested through moves — the Marlins have the lowest percentage of draw advantage in the NL and just seven pinch-hit-at -Bats, albeit in largely high-leverage situations. Instead, Mattingly sees its depth as a long-term advantage — a way for Miami to keep players fresh, riding hot hitters, and playing advantageous matchups.

“Hopefully we can move on,” Mattingly said. “We will keep everyone in the mix. If we can get that through the year you feel like the guys are going to be stronger but it also keeps everyone playing and you really like that when your whole group feels like a part of it.

It has helped the Marlins to their best 16-game start in a 162-game season since 2017.

With players being asked to sacrifice more than they have in recent years, Wendle believes this is important.

“They lost a lot of games last year and I know that wasn’t right for a lot of the guys,” said Wendle. “It just sort of confirms what we’ve all already believed.”

This story was originally published April 27, 2022 6:40 p.m.

David Wilson, a native of Maryland, is the Miami Herald’s sports coverage janitor.

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