PITTSBURGH — When the Pirates signed outfielder Jake Marisnick prior to Opening Day, they knew they were getting an elite defender. On Saturday night at PNC Park, Marisnick showed just how he can go get it with the best of them.
Marisnick threw his hat in the ring as an early contender for defensive play of the year, running a miniature marathon and completely laying out to rob San Diego’s Ha-Seong Kim of an extra-base hit during the Pirates’ 7-6, 10-inning victory.
The game was tied in the sixth inning when Marisnick made the play, which had a catch probability of just 25%. It was a play that few outfielders in the game could make. When manager Derek Shelton was asked if he thought Marisnick would make the play, his answer was simple.
“No chance,” Shelton said. “I really didn’t.”
Marisnick, who had to traverse 84 feet in just 4.1 seconds, spent a couple moments lying on the dirt near the left-field foul line after rolling over from his stomach to his back. Cameras caught Marisnick grimacing, but the outfielder quickly popped up on his feet, flipped the ball to a fan and received a hero’s welcome as he jogged back to his dugout.
“Off the bat, kind of borderline,” Marisnick said. “I didn’t know if I was going to get there, and I just started floating. That’s where you put your head down, and when you get there, I was able to take it away.”
In case one diving catch wasn’t good enough, Marisnick laid out again two innings later to rob Trent Grisham of a hit with the score tied at 3. Marisnick didn’t have to run as far or as long to snag Grisham’s frozen rope, but it was another display of his athleticism and prowess nonetheless.
“He’s an incredible outfielder, has been his whole career,” said fellow outfielder Bryan Reynolds, whose hard grounder in the 10th inning got past first baseman Eric Hosmer for an error that allowed Ke’Bryan Hayes to score the winning run.
“If there’s a ball in the air, everybody on the field has all the confidence in the world that he’s going to get it.”
The diving catches were the obvious examples of Marisnick’s defensive abilities, but Shelton made sure to point out one of the more subtle parts of the outfielder’s performance.
In the top of the fourth inning, with runners on first and second, Marisnick caught a fly ball in left-center field then fired a chest-high strike to the third baseman Hayes. The throw clocked in at 91.3 mph, the second-hardest ball that Marisnick has thrown all year, and the threat of Marisnick’s arm kept Jake Cronenworth from advancing to third base.
“Usually, that’s an automatic tag up and you’re throwing the ball to second and it’s first and third,” Shelton said. “That was another play that goes unnoticed.”
An even more subtle example of Marisnick’s ability to change a game on defense came last Sunday in a 4-3 win over the Cubs. Marisnick didn’t record a putout nor an assist, but his intellect saved — and won — the Pirates a game.
In the bottom of the ninth inning with the Pirates clinging to a one-run lead, Rafael Ortega smashed a line drive that ricocheted off the bricks. Marisnick initially broke toward the ball, but once he realized he had no chance of catching it on the fly, Marisnick eased up and prepared to play the carom.
When the ball took a funky hop, Marisnick was prepared and tracked it down before it could bounce away. Marisnick’s instincts — as well as an arm that any runner has to respect — kept Ortega to a double instead of a triple. That difference in 90 feet was invaluable considering Seiya Suzuki hit a bloop double the very next at-bat. Ortega advanced only one base on the bloop; he would have scored had he been on third.
“The game’s tied unless he makes the read he makes and comes out and gets the ball,” Shelton said. “Definitely saved our butts there.”
Marisnick has saved quite a few teams quite a few times over the last decade. Since making his debut in 2013, Marisnick is eighth among outfielders in defensive runs saved (77). That feat is all the more impressive considering Marisnick has played considerably fewer innings than his contemporaries. He’s made these types of plays for almost a decade, and the Pirates are glad he’s doing them in the black and yellow.
“He knows what he’s doing, and he’s an unbelievable athlete,” Hayes said.