Mattingly comfortable batting Rojas anywhere, but leadoff has been his sweet spot in 2021 – Miami Herald

Miami Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas (19) and second baseman Jazz Chisholm (2) react to defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 during an MLB game at loanDepot park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on Saturday, September 4, 2021
Miami Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas (19) and second baseman Jazz Chisholm (2) react to defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 during an MLB game at loanDepot park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on Saturday, September 4, 2021 Daniel A. Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly recently mentioned that he could put Miguel Rojas anywhere in the lineup and he would be comfortable with it. He’s watched Rojas mature as a hitter over the past six years and that he understands his role each time he steps up to the plate.

But it’s hard to deny that the leadoff spot has fit Rojas nicely this season. The shortstop is hitting .306 this year when slotted at No. 1 in the batting order, going 68 for 222 in 55 starts. He’s hitting .241 in 203 at-bats at any other spot in the lineup.

Among players with at least 200 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter this season, Rojas ranks fifth in batting average (behind only Luis Arraez’s .327, Trea Turner’s .316, Adam Frazier’s .314 and Randy Arozarena’s .307).

On the season overall, Rojas is batting .276 with career highs in runs scored (62) and triples (three) while also recording 28 doubles (one shy of his single-season career high), eight home runs (three shy of his single-season career high) and 40 RBI (13 shy of his career high).

“He’s at a point where he realizes is doesn’t matter where you’re at; it’s just an at-bat,” Mattingly said. “It’s a matter of what’s your plan, what are you trying to do with the guy? How’s the game telling you how to play? It’s really not any more complicated than that. I know sometimes we get caught up with this spot in the order and that spot in the order. Really the toughest one is the eight hole when the pitcher’s there. You’re not quite sure. Are they trying to come get you? Are they gonna let you get yourself out? So Miggy understands exactly what to do in the situation and what he wants to do up there. That’s really why he’s so consistent. He understands what he’s planning to do.”

Rojas, who left Sunday’s game with left trapezius soreness, has taken 463 plate appearances this season and needs just 37 more trips to the plate this season for the team option in his contract for the 2022 season to vest.

Isan Diaz’s hitting slump

Isan Diaz hasn’t recorded a hit since Aug. 21, when he had a pinch-hit groundball single in the ninth inning in a road loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

Since then, Diaz has gone 0 for his last 27 with eight strikeouts, two walks (one intentional) and a sacrifice bunt. His batting average has dipped from .206 to .181. His OPS has gone from .626 to .581.

So what has gone wrong? There have been his share of bad at-bats, but there have also been times where he has been unlucky. Consider:

Seven of the 19 balls Diaz has put in play have had an exit velocity of at least 99.7 mph. The results of those seven at-bats? Diaz reached on a fielding error once, lined out to the first baseman twice and hit into four groundouts, two of which were into the shift.

Diaz’s expected batting average since his slump began is .172 — not good but definitely a lot better than the .000 he has. Among players with at least 20 plate appearances when Diaz’s slump began, the 172-point swing between Diaz’s actual batting average and his expected batting average is the largest among players with at least 20 plate appearances since Aug. 22.

Diaz this season has averaged the highest exit velocity of his career (89.1 mph), has cut down the strikeout rate slightly (27.2 percent in 2021, compared to 29.6 percent in 2019 and 2020) and is walking more (12 percent in 2021, compared to 8.5 percent in 2019 and 2020).

One-run games

The Marlins have played 41 games that have been decided by one run this season and are 15-26 in those contests. The 26 one-run losses are tied for the third most in a single season in Marlins history, three shy of the franchise record of 29 set in 1998 and replicated in 2014.

But not all one-run games are created equal, particularly the losses.

Here’s a breakdown of how those 26 defeats have unfolded:

21 came before the All-Star Break, prior to the Marlins trading away of bulk of their top offensive players (Adam Duvall, Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson, etc.).

10 were walk-off losses, including four in extra innings.

The offense scored three runs or fewer 16 times, including four shutouts.

A reliever was credited with a blown save — giving up the lead in the seventh inning or later — eight times.

Almost inexplicably, Sandy Alcantara has been the starting pitcher for five of these losses despite having quality performances in four of those outings. Those games:

April 1 vs the Tampa Bay Rays: Alcantara throws six shutout innings. The Marlins lose 1-0.

May 9 vs the Milwaukee Brewers: Alcantara gives up one run in seven innings. The Marlins lose 2-1.

June 16 vs the St. Louis Cardinals: Alcantara gives up one unearned run over 8 1/3 innings. It was the game-winning run in a 1-0, walk-off loss.

June 22 vs the Toronto Blue Jays: Alcantara gives up one run over eight innings. The Marlins lose 2-1.

Sept. 2 vs the New York Mets: Alcantara gives up four runs in 6 1/3 innings. The Marlins lose 4-3.

On the flip side, Alcantara has also been on the winning end of three one-run games this season.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.