Christina De Nicola
MIAMI — Before the Marlins’ 4-3 victory over the Padres on Tuesday night at loanDepot park, rookie catcher Nick Fortes asked veteran Jacob Stallings how he would call Edward Cabrera’s start. Stallings had just caught Sandy Alcantara, who has similar stuff to Cabrera, so the pair went through the lineup and game-planned.
Not only did Fortes help six pitchers navigate the series-clinching victory, but he also recorded his first career multi-homer game and his first three-hit game.
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Last week in Philadelphia, Fortes said he loved catching because he could impact a game even when he’s not hitting well. Entering Tuesday, Fortes had a slash line of .208/.250/.306 with just four extra-base hits in 27 games since July 2.
Then Fortes knocked a pair of solo homers against Sean Manaea that handed Miami an early 2-0 lead. The first came on a sinker at the top of the zone in the second inning, and the second was an ambush of a middle-middle changeup in the fourth.
“That comes from just being on time,” said Fortes, who has four of his 10 career homers on the first pitch. “Sometimes, I load a little bit late, see the ball a little bit late, and then it's by you. It's just timing stuff. If you're on time, you see it better, you're more confident. Just some minor, minor fixes.”
Until recently, Fortes wasn’t alone in his struggles at the plate. Stallings slashed .184/.244/.232 in 71 first-half games with his new club. It got to a point where Miami decided he and Fortes would split reps, with the veteran serving as Alcantara’s and Pablo López’s batterymate. Fortes worked with Triple-A teammates like Cabrera and Braxton Garrett. Fans began clamoring for Fortes to play even more, and through it all, Stallings was on the top step of the dugout cheering his mentee on.
Stallings has since turned the corner. He is batting .364/.436/.509 in 18 games since the All-Star break, hitting safely in 13 of his last 17 starts, with five multi-hit games. That includes Monday, when he collected three hits and walked in a victory.
“There was a lot of stuff going on at the beginning of the year,” said Stallings, whom Miami acquired from Pittsburgh. “It was a lot of new things for me. Spring Training was fast, trying to learn all these new pitchers, trying to get comfortable at the plate, new city. Everything just felt like it was going really fast there for a while. But luckily, lately, I've been playing better.
“It's been so much fun catching these pitchers this year. I don't know if it got in the way. I just think there were a lot of things that went into my struggles at the plate for a while there, but glad to be on the other side of it.”
Fortes credits Stallings and catching coach Eddy Rodriguez for his growth, in particular behind the plate. The 25-year-old makes sure to watch the reigning Gold Glove-winning Stallings’ daily routine closely.
So far it has paid off. Entering Tuesday, Fortes had 1.1 fWAR and 104 wRC+ since being recalled from Triple-A Jacksonville on May 27. He entered Tuesday with 5 defensive runs saved after recording -3 in 2021. In the first inning alone, Fortes stole strike three in at-bats against Juan Soto and Manny Machado.
“Game management. Receiving. Me and Eddy have been going really hard with working on it and trying to get my receiving scores and numbers up,” Fortes said. “I'm really happy with how I've been catching and throwing as well.”
Seeing Fortes and Stallings perform in this series is especially pleasing with a pair of former Marlins — Jorge Alfaro and Austin Nola — in the visiting dugout. Though Nola never appeared in the Majors with Miami, Alfaro was the starting catcher for three seasons (2019-21). When the front office decided to make a defensive-first catcher the priority by acquiring Stallings, Alfaro was dealt to San Diego last December.
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Fittingly enough, Miami’s 3.77 catcher's ERA was tied with the Padres for ninth-best in MLB.
“It's been really good,” manager Don Mattingly said. “I was thinking about it right after the game. Our catching group is in a pretty good spot. We've seen both of these guys. I know we see the swing and the home runs, but to me, the growth and calling the game, handling the pitching staff, that is where it's truly going to make a difference organizationally, as he keeps growing that way.
"Jacob's already kind of got that in his tool belt. I talked about it a little bit last night. Just the fact that Jacob's such a good teammate and they work together is a good thing.”
Nick Fortes posts his first 2-homer game – MLB.com
Christina De Nicola