Four years ago, the Diamondbacks’ Ketel Marte received a contract extension late in spring training, tried to prove he was worthy of it and struggled for the season’s first two months. He admitted on Monday that history might have been repeating itself. Only this time, Marte seems to be turning things around in much shorter order.
Marte played well on both sides of the ball on Monday night, helping the Diamondbacks roll along with a 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins at Chase Field. The win was their 10th in their past 13 games, improving their record, at 16-14, to two games over .500 for the first time this season.
In the sixth, Marte clobbered a fastball over the pool area in right field for his second home run of the year. It was perhaps the best swing he has put on a ball this season. Then in the ninth, he started a game-ending double play on a ball hit sharply to his left — the same sort of play he had been unable to make on multiple occasions over the past month.
“He’s the best of the best,” left fielder David Peralta said. “It was just a matter of time for him to lock in and do his stuff.”
“It’s not a matter of if he’s going to figure it out — it’s a matter of when,” first baseman Christian Walker said. “We’ve seen that guy do it day in and day out.”
In 2018, the Diamondbacks made a surprise decision to reward the then-unproven Marte with a five-year, $24 million deal. To that point, Marte had shown flashes of brilliance during his short big league career, but he had yet to turn in a fully productive season. Eager to prove the club made the right move, he fell flat out of the gates, hitting just .217 with one homer through his first 52 games.
This year, a little more than a week prior to Opening Day, the Diamondbacks again lavished Marte with an extension, a five-year, $76 million deal that again caught many off guard, this time because the club still had three years remaining (two on club options) from his previous deal.
When the season began, Marte looked like a player searching for his old form. His timing was off at the plate. He could not seem to find the barrel with his swing. His defense was unreliable at second, a position he was again playing full-time after bouncing around the diamond the previous three seasons.
“It’s possible it was the contract,” Marte said, speaking through interpreter Alex Arpiza. “It’s only natural. When someone tries to do too much, things don’t come out the right way.”
Nine days ago in St. Louis, Marte reached down and hooked a home run out to right. It was his first of the year, coming after a stretch in which he went just 2 for 35. Before batting practice the next day, he looked like a new man. He was a ball of energy, smiling, dancing and joking with teammates.
“It’s good to see him get his swagger back a little bit and get that confidence back,” Walker said. “I think we can all feed off that for sure.”
Since the day he homered at Busch Stadium, Marte is 12 for 28 (.429) with four doubles, a triple and two home runs. But even for as productive as Marte has been at the plate, manager Torey Lovullo seems most pleased by what his second baseman has been doing in the field.
The last play of the game stood out. He ranged to his left to glove a Miguel Rojas grounder, then turned, jumped and fired to second in one motion. Shortstop Nick Ahmed finished the play with a quick turn at the bag.
For whatever reason, Marte had struggled with similar balls this year, including in a key moment in the third game of the season, a misplay that might have cost the Diamondbacks the game. Lovullo called it the kind of play he had seen Marte make numerous times in previous years, but he explained the recent struggles as being those of a player trying to reacclimate himself to the infield.
“It takes a little time to get that feeling back,” Lovullo said. “But he was dancing with the baseball out there. That’s a tough play. He made it look really easy. To field that ball to your forehand side, pivot, put your back to home plate and throw a strike to second base, that’s a very tough play.
“We expect him to do that. We know he’s capable of doing that. We’ve seen him work hard and practice doing that. And when it comes out at the most critical time of the game, it’s nice to see because we need those results.”
For a night, at least, the Diamondbacks got them. To hear Marte, he seems to expect much of the same from here on out.
“That’s the player I am,” he said. “Early on, I was trying to do too much. That’s what we’ve been working on, little by little.”