August 10, 2022

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Marlins' big boppers heating up in May

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MIAMI — Nights like Monday are what the Marlins’ brain trust envisioned for the 2022 season when it made moves to upgrade the roster. The problem is, they have come less frequently than expected.

Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler combined for four RBIs, marking just the the third time this season both have driven in a run in the same game in Miami’s 8-2 victory over Washington at loanDepot park. The Marlins notched a season-high 16 hits to back ace Sandy Alcantara, who went a season-high-tying eight innings and retired a career-high 20 batters in a row to cap his start.

It’s a reassuring sight for manager Don Mattingly and general manager Kim Ng, both of whom continually stressed that the breakout would come eventually because of the slugging duo’s prior history. García entered 2022 with a career 105 OPS+, while Soler is a former American League home run champion and last fall’s World Series MVP.

“Soli’s been a little longer, Avi’s starting to see it,” Mattingly said. “Started coming on the West Coast, started really with just getting some hits. That’s always good for guys. You start getting a couple to fall, and I’ve said it before, you’re not always making that right turn and turning back to the dugout.”

Prior to the lockout, Miami made García its marquee acquisition by signing him to a four-year, $53 million contract coming off a career season of 29 homers and 86 RBIs with the Brewers. The ballclub expected him and Soler to be run-producing forces in the middle of the order. That hasn’t been the case in the early going, a big reason the Marlins (16-19) find themselves third in the National League East and 4-11 so far in May. The inconsistent offense has scored three runs or fewer in 54 percent of the club’s games, making the pitching staff’s margin for error very low.

To say the beginning of García’s tenure hasn’t gone swimmingly would be an understatement. Forget about his average dropping to .171 on May 5 in San Diego. Twice this season, he has exited games due to an upset stomach.

But since that hitless performance to open Miami’s last road trip, García has begun to see results at the plate. In Monday’s series opener, García sparked the go-ahead four-run second inning by going deep to straightaway center, the first of six consecutive batters to reach base. He later added an RBI single to score Soler in a four-run seventh.

Over his last nine games dating back to May 6, García is 12-for-36 (.333) with two home runs and five RBIs. That stretch includes four multi-hit games after just one through his first 24 contests. His average has jumped to .220. García credits Miami’s hitting coaches for having him stay more on his back leg to see pitches better rather than jumping forward.

“Just trying not to do too much, and I’ve been working so hard to come back and trying to help the team win,” García said. “It’s a long season. Just got to keep working and be positive. Always positive. It’s a tough game. Sometimes you’re going to get results, sometimes not. It’s part of the game. But you’ve just got to keep working. If you stay healthy and keep working, I think the results are going to be there.”

Miami inked Soler to a one-year deal with options for 2023 and ‘24 during Spring Training to conclude its offseason. Soler tallied just two homers and six RBIs in April, when he spent most of the time as the club’s leadoff batter; he already has five homers and 12 RBIs in a more traditional spot in the middle of the order this month. Since May 7 in San Diego, Soler is 10-for-37 (.270) with an .877 OPS. He has driven in a run in five of nine games, including the last three.

And Soler is doing it with elite exit velocity. During Monday’s four-run seventh, his single (113.2 mph) was the hardest-hit ball of the game. Shortstop Dee Strange-Gordon had no chance at it, as two runners easily scored. Another came home on a pair of throwing errors on the play. Even Soler’s outs are loud: Maikel Franco snared his 111 mph liner to begin the fifth.

Soler credits his recent success to keeping his head still at the plate so the ball doesn’t appear to move too much.

“Just doing a persistent job, doing things I was doing in the cage consistently, working in the cage,” Soler said via an interpreter. “Things are coming right in place now.”

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