Doubling down! Cooper/Aguilar to handle first/DH
By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd
JUPITER, Fla. — Splitting time at first base and DH worked out just fine in 2020, so the Miami Marlins plan on using that same combination again this season.
Garrett Cooper and Jesus Aguilar are expected to job share the two spots in 2022, which means two of Miami’s top power hitters can regularly be in the lineup at the same time.
The positional breakdown could be close to even. So whoever is playing first base, the other likely will be the designated hitter.
Still, that doesn’t mean other options won’t be used at designated hitter. Avisail Garcia, Jesus Sanchez and Brian Anderson, and more, may get some shots at DH when they need a break from playing the field.
But for the most part, look for Aguilar and Cooper to be handling those two spots.
In the shortened 60-game season in 2020, the DH was handled mostly this way. Miami that year went to the playoffs, witch Coop and Agui being big contributors.
“That’s fair,” Mattingly said when asked if he plans on using the same approach as two year ago. “I’d say 2020 was a good look at that. You trust both guys at first base. With that, tough, you always want to have some kind of flexibility, to give Avi a day, and maybe give Sanchy a day. You can get a different combination in there every once and a while. But in general, I see those two guys as first base/DH.”
Both are elated that MLB has adopted the universal designated hitter.
“I think the DH is huge,” Cooper said. “It gives a lot of people different opportunities to continue to play. There are a lot of veterans out there who can still hit. The Nelson Cruzs of the world, who are 40-years-old and still playing.”
Aguilar has been one of Miami’s most productive offensive performers the past few years. In 2021, he hit .261/329/.459 with 22 homers.
The disappointment he had was suffering a left knee injury in September that prevented him from reaching 100 RBIs. He finished so close at 93 in 131 games.
“I’m feeling good,” Aguilar said. “My knee is feeling good right now. I’m in shape. I’m ready to go. Let’s see what we can do.”
Finishing seven RBIs shy of 100 was tough to deal with, and understood trying to play through the pain was risky.
“I was checking with the medical staff,” Aguilar said. “There was no reason to force that knee at that moment. That’s why we made the decision to have surgery.”
Aguilar has experienced reaching the century mark in runs batted in. He collected 108 in 2018 while with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Still, there was some temptation to try to reach the benchmark.
“Maybe,” he said. “But we didn’t think about it in that moment. Sometimes you can’t control those little things. When the body talks, you’ve got to listen.”
Cooper’s season was cut short in July due to a partial UCL tear in his left elbow. He underwent surgery, and is now good to go with no restrictions in Spring Training.
In the offseason, he completed his physical therapy, and he was done with his rehab at the end of December. The rehab process was about three months.
“It was a pretty clean recovery for me, and I feel great coming in,” Cooper said. “I’m a little bit heavier. I’m a little bit stronger. I don’t have to worry too much about the outfield right now.”
Retiring his outfield glove is a big relief for Cooper, who now can focus on first base and batting.
“They told me there was no more outfield,” Cooper said. “They pretty much told me it would be a split, pretty evenly with me and Agui. From what I’ve heard from the front office and the coaching staff.”
Cooper appeared in just 71 games in 2021, and was productive: hitting .284/.380/.465 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs.
“The DH gives our team a different dynamic, having me and Agui in the lineup,” Cooper said. “It was hard getting everybody in the lineup last year. It just was.”
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