Miami's dynamic duo headlines baseball's top-ranked defense
By Steve Wilaj
MIAMI -- It started in February on the back fields of the Marlins' Spring Training complex in Jupiter, Fla. -- mostly after the regular work each day was done.
There, Miami's young dynamic middle infield of shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Dee Gordon -- who had yet to play together -- took extra grounders, practiced flips and basically just got a feel for one another.
"Hours and hours on those back fields," Marlins infield coach Perry Hill said. "When everybody else was doing something else like hitting or the day was done, they would stay out extra just getting the feel for how each other feeds the ball to second base and where they like the ball on the double play. It was just about trying to mesh and figure out how things work, so those six weeks that we spent in Jupiter were very productive."
They certainly were, as the tandem has propelled Miami to be the Major League's top-ranked defensive team, with the fewest errors (29) as well as the best fielding percentage (.990). Both middle infielders can certainly swing it, too -- Gordon leads the league with a .353 batting average, while Hechavarria is batting .283 with 31 RBIs -- but their defensive work so far in their first season together has been stellar.
"They've started from Spring Training at trying to get a rapport between the two, and so far it's meshed pretty good," Hill said. "They're both tremendous athletes."
The 26-year-old Hechavarria, acquired from Toronto in 2012, has continued to improve. In 650 1/3 innings this season, the Cuba native has committed just four errors in 331 chances -- good for a .988 fielding percentage, which ranks fourth in MLB among shortstops. In 2014, Hechavarria finished with a .979 fielding percentage (14 errors in 652 chances).
The 27-year-old Gordon, meanwhile, has also gotten better since joining the Marlins from the Dodgers in a trade this past offseason. He converted to second base from shortstop in 2014, and posted a .984 fielding percentage in an All-Star season with L.A. But Gordon has been even better this season, committing only four errors in 376 chances (.989 fielding percentage).
The two also rank atop the leaderboards in double plays, as Gordon has been a part of 49 (seventh most among MLB second basemen), while Hechavarria has been involved in 52 (second most among MLB shortstops).
"On a ground ball up the middle, I know if Gordon is going to throw to me [a flip or backhand]," Hechavarria said. "I know what he's going to do. I'm ready for whatever great play he can make. He, too, thinks about me on plays close to second."
"It's a blessing considering where I came from playing. It was very important for me at this point in my career," Gordon said.
As a result of producing highlight plays seemingly on a nightly basis, the duo has been drawing comparisons to another slick-fielding middle infield for the Fish -- the 2003 World Series-champion tandem of shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez committed 16 errors in 679 chances that season (.976), while Castillo had 10 errors in 729 chances (.986).
Jack McKeon, who managed the '03 team, weighed in on the comparison -- calling Gonzalez and Castillo "still the best middle infield" in franchise history, while admitting Hechavarria and Gordon are on the rise.
"I'm prejudiced. We won the World Series with [Gonzalez and Castillo]," McKeon said. "Until they start winning … but [Hechavarria and Gordon] are very good -- outstanding. I'd say they're a little bit behind the '03 guys. Don't get me wrong, that's not a knock on them. It's just that Luis and Gonzo played together a little bit longer.
"But you look at these two guys and they're two of the best in the league. They just don't get the recognition they deserve."
However, it appears that is quickly changing. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw certainly took notice in this past weekend's three-game series at Marlins Park -- even while he's still trying to get both names down.
"That's what [Miami's] known for -- infield defense," Kershaw said after Saturday's contest. "Hechavarria -- I'm sorry if I didn't pronounce that right -- but he's one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. … Dee as well at second."
Steve Wilaj is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.