MIAMI – It was Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s job to lose. Saltalamacchia opened the season as the Marlins’ starting catcher, but after struggling offensively, was designated for assignment. The Marlins then called upon J.T. Realmuto to start and the rookie has produced consistently with increased playing time.
Realmuto has thrived since being called upon but had one of his best performances of the season Wednesday against the Red Sox. In a 14-6 victory, he went 3-for-5 and ended the game a triple shy of the first cycle in Marlins history.
"You have to take advantage of these times because when you get hot like this it doesn’t last too long," Realmuto said. "My role is to go out and get better every day and keep working. That’s really all I could worry about right now."
In addition to posting three hits, Realmuto’s five RBIs in the sixth inning set a club record for runs driven in during a single inning. He also tied Charlie Johnson for the most RBIs in a game by a catcher with six and has 80 hits on the season, surpassing Johnson’s 79 for the most in franchise history.
The Marlins considered using a pinch hitter, likely Tomas Telis, in Realmuto’s place late in the game, Manager Dan Jennings said. But Realmuto knew he had a chance to hit for the cycle and asked Jennings to allow him to take his final at-bat of the night.
"He wanted that last at-bat," Jennings said. "Guy had that kind of day, we felt compelled to give him the opportunity. What a heck of a day he had. He did a heck of a job behind the plate as well. Really a complete performance behind the plate to step up that way."
Realmuto also recorded his sixth triple of the season and the first grand slam of his career.
Although Realmuto recorded five hits in ten at-bats over two games against the Red Sox, he was batting .249/.280/.392 heading into Wednesday’s contest. Jennings said hitting coach Frank Menechino keeps track of line-drive outs. Realmuto had been hitting the ball hard but was 3 for his last 26 heading into the brief series against Boston.
Jennings is not the only one praising Realmuto’s ability to produce regularly. Adam Conley, who tossed 4.2 innings against the Red Sox and became familiar with Realmuto as the pair progressed throughout Miami’s minor league system, is also taking notice.
"He wants to be great and is constantly wanting to learn," Conley said. "To make it to the big leagues and be catching at the level that he is right now a few years after being a shortstop out of high school, you can’t say enough about it. There are very few people in the world, let alone in baseball, that can make the adjustments that he’s made."
While Realmuto, a converted shortstop, has proven to be a plus catcher defensively, he said infield coach Perry Hill plans to work with him at third base and in left field next spring. Becoming familiar with playing other positions will enable Realmuto to be in the lineup even when he has a night off behind the plate.
At the end of the season, the Marlins do not have to concern themselves with adding a starting catcher to the roster. Instead, they can focus on adding pieces around him.
"This guy has a chance to be an All-Star player for a long time," Jennings said. "He’s a tremendous athlete and has such offensive value. Really every month we talk about him taking leadership of this team and running the pitching staff. He’s stepped up in a huge way and it’s good to see him do that."