Saltalamacchia Struggles Severely to Start Season
By Sean Millerick
In one of the many examples of the absurd and bumpy start to the Marlins 2015 season, Sunday’s 8-5 loss to the Devil Rays not only saw Miami lose their second consecutive series, but saw them lose lose two players to the exact same injury. Infielder Don Kelly and catcher Jeff Mathis both sustained a fractured ring finger in the contest, landing them on the disabled list along with staff ace Henderson Alvarez. A flurry of call ups correspondingly followed, among them the club’s number two prospect according to ESPN’s Keith Law and Fansided’s Ehsan Kassim, catcher J.T Realmuto.
Realmuto’s callup is certainly the most intriguing of the three- Reid Brignac and Carter Capps being the others- as it reflects a move at a position that has proven the most problematic for Miami so far on the year. Not that anyone besides Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich has exactly been having a a banner year at the plate, but from the catcher position, Miami has gone just 2 for 25 with four walks and one RBI. Minus five at bats (1 walk) from Jeff Mathis, the lion’s share of that staggering lack of production has come from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Things have been almost equally as bad behind the plate, as he is already up to two errors (Miami as a team has just three overall) on the year- good enough for a share of the MLB lead. That’s familiar territory for Salty, who was the league leader at his position for 2014 as well with 15 miscues. Twenty-fourth amongst active catchers in fielding percentage, and with a career batting average of just. 241, his sensational 2013 season is looking more and more like an aberration- not the trend Miami’s front office took it for when they signed him to a 3 year/$21 million contract that December. Making him the seventh highest paid catcher in the game for 2014, the club has thus far not come close to getting a commensurate return on that investment. For Saltalamacchia, the pressure is certainly building.
As for Realmuto, what awaits him these next two weeks could be the perfect opportunity. Since he’s coming in as a replacement backup, not a starter, relatively little pressure faces him. In first introduction to the Show last September, he batted. 241 with 9 RBI. I suppose the fact that his “career” MLB average already matches Saltalamacchia’s own can cut both ways, but his inexperience allows for performance to be viewed as potential, not a pattern. His .299 average and 18 stolen bases at AA last year would seem to back this up. But for these two weeks, whatever he contributes beyond resting Saltalamacchia’s knees for a few days is gravy. The incumbent however has to not only deal with the burden his lack of production is putting on the team, but with the added weight of having the heir apparent in the same locker room. Every hit by Realmuto, and more importantly every strikeout by Salty, will add fuel to the fire burning beneath his seat in the clubhouse. While the last two seasons have gone a long way towards restoring his image as an owner, it should also be mentioned that Jeffrey Loria is not exactly known for his patience; with the team’s all in mentality this season, you would have to think the leash will be considerably shorter than it has been these last two years when it comes to poor performance. To borrow a saying from another sport, the most popular guy in town is the backup quarterback.