Miami Marlins second baseman Derek Dietrich wears a right elbow protector like a piece of armor, and for good reason.
A pitch has hit Dietrich three times over the past eight games. It’s a stat that doesn’t bother him since he sees it as part of his job.
During the third inning of Monday’s 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals, righty Tanner Roark hit Dietrich with a 1-2 pitch. Giancarlo Stanton followed with his National League-leading 15th home run.
"Lately I’ve been getting hit by the ball a lot," Dietrich said. "Whatever it takes. ‘Did you not see that ball well?’ ‘No, I saw exactly where it was going but anything to get on in front of Stanton.’ That’s my whole goal getting on base in front of him because you know he’s got a chance to drive in a bunch. Just do what you gotta do to get on base."
That’s the main objective of the team’s two-hole hitter: finding a way to reach for one of the game’s best sluggers.
Stanton continues to pace the majors with 49 RBI thanks to the mindset of the batters ahead of him in the lineup.
Dietrich, who has been hit eight times in 143 plate appearances, is tied with Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker for the big-league lead. He has gone on to score in five of those instances.
Already likened to Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley for his power capability, Dietrich also thinks he’s similar to him in his approach. Over a 12-year career, Utley averages 19 hit by pitches per season.
"He’s another guy that stays in there always," Dietrich said. "It’s always been what I’ve been known for. I don’t really get out of the way, and I’m always looking to get on base — walk, hit by pitch. Whatever it is."
The luxury of having a batter like Stanton who can pop a homer at any time affects the way utility player Ed Lucas goes into an at-bat at the top of the order. As he says, "you basically have no responsibility but to get on base."
Rather than trying to do too much for a dinger or a ball to the gap, he works the count for a single or walk.
Last Thursday during the fourth inning of a 4-3 victory over the Phillies, Lucas let atypical aggressiveness get the best of him. He swung at the first pitch from lefty Cole Hamels and popped up to first. Stanton, who didn’t want to give Hamels another quick out, took a fastball down the middle and later grounded out to third.
"I’m a lot more patient and not as aggressive," Lucas said. "I’m a little more conservative just trying to get deep into an at-bat and work a walk or have a single and not be overly aggressive and make a stupid out early in the count. I did that (a few) days ago.
"If you have the option of me swinging at the first pitch or G swinging at the first pitch — I think we’re all smart enough to know he’s the one."
Stanton’s presence also takes away aggressive baserunning because of the likelihood him or cleanup batter Casey MeGehee driving in a run.
In the opening frame of Wednesday’s 8-5 extra-innings win, however, Christian Yelich committed a rare gaffe that cost Stanton his 50th RBI.
After his leadoff double, Yelich tried going to third on Dietrich’s grounder to short, but Ian Desmond’s throw to third and Anthony Rendon’s tag beat him. Stanton followed with a sharp single up the middle that would’ve scored Yelich.
"Even when you do get on base it’s try not to take too many risks because you don’t want to get yourself thrown out when there’s a pretty good possibility he could hit a home run on any given pitch," Lucas said. "I’m not going to try and steal a base or go first-to-third on a close play because he’s just as likely to hit a home run as he it to hit a single."
So far this season, the leadoff batter is hitting .260 with a .333 on-base percentage that ranks 11th in the majors. Those in the second slot — mainly Dietrich, Marcell Ozuna and Lucas — have posted a .273 average and .366 on-base clip, which is fifth. The first two batters in Miami’s lineup lead the majors with a combined 81 runs scored.
McGehee’s ability to hit with runners in scoring position — a .439 mark, the best in baseball — forces opposing teams to make a decision on whom to pitch to.
"We talked about the importance of those guys in front or behind doing their jobs to get on base or get a big hit every once in awhile when they do pitch around Giancarlo," manager Mike Redmond said. "With Garrett Jones hitting fifth the way he’s swinging the bat now really forces them to pitch to someone. I know in certain instances they feel like they can maybe still pitch to Giancarlo, but he’s doing a lot of damage, too. That’s good to see him locked in and feeling good. He’s a monster in our order for us."