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With the bases loaded early in a one-run game, Isan Diaz swung at the first pitch he saw in the third inning Friday. Moments later, he watched as the 94.1 mph fastball he hit off Milwaukee Brewers reliever Patrick Weigel carried to right-center field at loanDepot park.
He got just enough to bust open the game for the Miami Marlins against his former team to begin a three-game series.
The ball landed in the artificial turf just beyond the wall for a grand slam — the first of Diaz’s career. The Marlins never looked back from there en route to a 6-1 win over the Brewers. Miami has now won four consecutive games and is 15-16 on the year. Milwaukee, which has lost six consecutive games, falls to 17-16.
“Just trying to take advantage of an opportunity there,” Diaz said. “Just trying to keep the aggressive mentality, trying to stay with my approach and continue to add onto the scoreboard.”
Diaz rounded the bases with a smile on his face and was greeted at home plate by Miguel Rojas, Garrett Cooper and Adam Duvall, the trio of runners who were on the basepaths when he sent the ball a projected 401 feet and out of reach of the Brewers’ outfielders.
It’s the latest success moment in Diaz’s rebirth at the big-league level.
Diaz, one of four players the Marlins acquired from the Brewers as part of the Christian Yelich trade in January 2018 (along with Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and Jordan Yamamoto), has hits in three of his last four games.
He has safely reached base in all seven games since being recalled to the active roster on April 28 after Jazz Chisholm Jr. went on the injured list.
Diaz’s batting average is up to .238. His .393 on-base percentage — elevated in large part to his six walks — is the third highest on the team although he has a much more limited sample size than the majority of his teammates (just 28 plate appearances). He also has just four strikeouts so far.
“He’s seeing the ball good,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Now, he’s starting to get some results.”
Friday was Diaz’s latest breakthrough moment and it came after the Marlins strung together three quality at-bats before him. Rojas led off the inning with a five-pitch walk and Cooper’s one-out groundball single put runners on first and third before the Brewers made a pitching change. Duvall worked a five-pitch walk against Weigel to load the bases before Diaz deposited the first pitch he saw over the wall in right-center.
“I’m just trying to have fun,” Diaz said. “Just trying to enjoy the game. Just trying to enjoy being around these guys and continue to go out and play and win baseball games. It’s fun. Just have to continue to keep the mentality of winning games.”
Diaz’s first two years in the big leagues weren’t always fun, though.
He batted just .173 with almost twice as many strikeouts (59) as hits (31) in his 2019 rookie season.
He played in just seven games during the 2020 season, opting out after two games when the Marlins went through their COVID-19 outbreak, returning in September and playing just five more games before a groin injury ended his season.
And then he started 2021 at the alternate training site after Chisholm won the starting second base job out of training camp.
His confidence took some hits early on with his big-league struggles. He’s now showing a glimpse of what he can provide if this early run is sustainable.
“He seems so comfortable,” Rojas said. “That’s something that you always want to see in guys like Isan after a couple rough years. Last year, we know what happened with him and that tough year that he had. You’re always happy and proud for guys like him coming back and showing that whatever happened in spring training is not going to define him. I’m just happy that he’s enjoying the game. He’s having fun. He’s smiling and he’s having a really good attitude.”
More Friday game highlights
The Marlins have now hit home runs in six consecutive games, including two by Diaz, and in 12 of their past 13 games overall.
Rojas on Friday tied a career high with four consecutive multi-hit games. He also accomplished the feat last season (July 24-Aug. 21, 2020). He went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk and three runs scored.
Rojas, Diaz, Duvall and Jesus Aguilar all had multi-hit games.
Trevor Rogers held the Brewers to one run in five innings of work. He struck out six while giving up just four hits and two walks. His ERA after seven starts is now 1.89.
Sierra makes most of opportunities
The opportunities for Magneuris Sierra to make contributions this season have been limited.
The speedy outfielder has been held primarily to pinch-hit and defensive replacement roles through the Miami Marlins’ first 30 games of the season as a result of the team’s roster construction.
When the team is at full strength, veterans Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Duvall are the primary outfielders. Cooper needs playing time, too, and Lewis Brinson has shown progress as of late.
That leaves the 25-year-old Sierra on the bench, biding his time.
“There’s no real, true at-bats for him,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
Which is why moments like Thursday were so meaningful.
Sierra entered the Marlins’ series finale with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning and replaced Brinson, who is dealing with soreness in his left middle finger, in center field to begin the seventh.
With two outs, he made a leaping grab at the right-center field wall to rob Asdrubal Cabrera of an extra-base hit — both Mattingly and relief pitcher Dylan Floro thought it was a home run.
According to Statcast, Sierra covered 108 feet with a max sprint speed of 28.1 feet per second (27 feet per second is considered league average) and jumped 3.8 feet in the air to make the catch.
“I always go out there to fight and compete,” Sierra said. “To be honest, I was waiting for a ball. I’m always waiting for a fly ball so I can make a catch or help out the team.”
The Marlins rallied to win that game, 3-1, to complete a three-game sweep and Sierra showed what he can provide despite limited action. Sierra has made plays on all seven balls that have come his way in his 28 1/3 innings of defense, according to FanGraphs.
“When you’re able to contribute,” Mattingly said, “you feel more a part of it.”
The latest opportunity came Friday, when Sierra started in center field and batted eighth. It is just Sierra’s second start of the season.
In the grand scheme of the Marlins’ roster, though, Sierra is in a tricky spot. The Marlins value his speed and defense and have seen improvement in his approach at the plate over the past couple years.
He’s getting a few more reps now with Marte on the injured list and Brinson dealing with the finger injury, but Sierra has been pigeon-holed into a bench role because of the players ahead of him on the depth chart.
Sierra is also out of minor-league options, meaning he would have to be taken off the 40-man roster and clear through waivers for the Marlins to send him down to the minor leagues.
“He has a role,” Mattingly said, “but there’s not necessarily a lot of starts there. He’s been good about understanding that, but it’s obviously not the best thing for him.”
▪ Catcher Jorge Alfaro (left hamstring strain) is catching bullpens and scheduled to run the bases and hit live pitching this weekend.
▪ Chisholm Jr. (left hamstring strain) is taking batting practice and doing defensive work. He is also scheduled to run the bases and hit live pitching this weekend.
▪ Marte (fractured left rib) is increasing his “rotational strengthening” and will start a hitting progression this weekend with dry swings.
▪ Right-handed pitcher Elieser Hernandez (right biceps inflammation) is throwing a 20-pitch live batting practice session on Saturday.
▪ Right handed pitcher Sixto Sanchez (right shoulder discomfort) is throwing at 105 feet.
▪ Right-handed pitcher Edward Cabrera (right biceps nerve inflammation) threw a 30-pitch bullpen session Friday.
▪ Right-handed pitcher Jorge Guzman (right elbow inflammation) is throwing at 105 feet.