JUPITER, Fla. — Spring training for a new double-play combination consists of ground ball … after ground ball … after ground ball …
“It’s a lot of repetition,” said Miami Marlins infield coach Perry Hill, whose job has included hitting grounders to second baseman Donovan Solano and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
“They have to work together enough that when a ball is hit in a certain direction, they know what their partner is going to do. Are they going to underhand it? Backhand toss? Throw it?”
Marlins fans who remember Luis Castillo and shortstop Alex Gonzalez should understand the importance of a team being strong up the middle, especially one built around pitching.
Solano, 25, made his major-league debut with Miami in May and became the regular second baseman after Omar Infante was traded to the Detroit Tigers in July. He batted .295 with two homers and 28 RBIs last season.
The Barranquilla, Colombia native credits former Marlins teammates Infante, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Hanley Ramirez, Edward Mujica and Carlos Zambrano with showing him how to adjust to life in The Show.
“They helped me a lot, not so much in the game but how to handle being in the major leagues mentally,” Solano said.
Defensively, Solano is being asked to be steady, not necessarily spectacular.
“Consistency — he makes the plays he’s supposed to make,” Hill said. “If he dives, gets up on his knees and throws the runner out, that’s a plus. But we’re stressing the ball’s hit right at you, three or four steps either way, you have to make those plays every time.”
Hechavarria, meanwhile, has been touted as future Gold Glover. The former Cuban national team member, who defected to Mexico in 2009, has been compared to former Marlins shortstop Edgar Renteria.
“I really didn’t see Renteria when I was in Cuba, but after I came to the States to (see) him in the (2010) World Series, and I even had a Renteria baseball card,” Hechavarria said through a translator. “I think I’m similar to Renteria in that I take pride in my defense and I’m good with my hands.”
Miami right-hander Henderson Alvarez, acquired with Hechavarria from the Toronto Blue Jays, played with his shortstop in the minors and majors.
“I feel comfortable and relaxed when I see Adeiny behind me,” Alvarez said through a translator. “I can always rely on his defense to help me out.”
During infield practice this spring, Hill has been seen screaming, “Stop it! I can’t take it anymore!” after seeing Hechavarria make a superb play.
Hechavarria will need more than range and soft hands to excel in the majors.
“He needs to calm down and slow down,” Hill said. “The game is going to move a little fast at times for him but the best teacher is experience.”
The biggest question surrounding Hechavarria, who’ll turn 24 on April 15, is: How much will he hit?
Hechavarria’s excellent glove likely means the Marlins would accept a .250 batting average.
“There was a general feeling he was going to hit for power in time,” said Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell, who managed Hechavarria in Toronto last season.
“It’s hard to predict a number on what a guy’s going to produce offensively, but .250 is not out of the realm of possibility … or even more.”