Philadelphia — Jake Marisnick was in his second season with the Houston Astros in 2015, when the club hired AJ Hinch to replace Bo Porter as the manager. Marisnick was 24 and he’d cut his teeth in the big leagues first with Miami and had played 51 games for Porter on that 92-loss team in 2014.
It didn’t take long to understand there was going to be a new way of doing things.
“We were doing infield-outfield drills early in spring training,” said Marisnick, now 32 and getting everyday reps in center field again for Hinch, this time in Detroit. “The outfield was a little wet. To that point, he’d been pretty loose with the players. We hadn’t heard him get on anybody yet.”
But then Marisnick, who wasn’t wearing cleats, did a cartoon-level slip-and-fall in the outfield.
“I ran for a ball and I completely slipped and landed on my back,” he said. “The whole team just started laughing. Everyone was rolling over at their positions laughing because I went both feet up and landed square on my back.”
The laughing stopped at the sound of Hinch’s voice.
“All of a sudden you hear AJ yelling, ‘Get up!!’ He was screaming,” Marisnick said. “It was the first time we all heard him scream and it was like, ‘Oh, crap.’ Everyone wore spikes from that day on, the rest of the time.”
It was the same message Hinch sent before his first practice as skipper of the Tigers: This game is supposed to be fun, but when it’s time to work, we’re going to work.
“It was just, make sure we take care of the details,” Marisnick said. “Like, if you’re not going to put your spikes on, he’s going to get on you. You’re costing what the whole team is working on that day, it’s a big problem. Paying attention to detail matters.
“And it’s the right stuff. As a player, it’s something you respect. It’s what you want.”
Not coincidentally, the right-handed-hitting Marisnick had the season of his career under Hinch in 2017, when he hit 16 home runs and slashed .243/.319/.496 and had an OPS-plus of 119.
He’s had some good at-bats in his short time with the Tigers, but not much to show for it (3-for-16 with seven strikeouts).
“Hitting at the bottom of the lineup, I’m trying to turn it over a little bit and put some at-bats together,” Marisnick said. “But, I would like to start juicing some balls.”
He hit 50 home runs for Houston between 2015 and 2019. In the years since, bouncing between five teams (Mets, Cubs, Padres, Pirates and Tigers), he’s hit nine.
“It’s something I’m actively working on,” he said. “Trying to tighten up the mechanics a little. I feel good. I feel close to kind of getting there. It comes down to discipline and swinging at good pitches. It’s something I want to improve on big time. But, I don’t want to take away from other parts that have made me successful to this point.”
He knows chasing home runs is a bad strategy. The launch angle on his swing was 18-19 degrees when he was swatting homers in Houston. It’s at 9.7 degrees in the short sample this year, and every at-bat has been against a right-handed pitcher.
But, trying to steepen his launch angle, he knows, will increase his swing-and-miss rate, which, again in the small sample, is 40%.
“His style as a player has maintained since the first day I saw him,” Hinch said. “He’s always had to work on controlling the strike zone. As his at-bats have gotten better, even some of his takes, the longer at-bats have been encouraging. That’s the veteran part of him coming out, having done this for almost 10 years.
“His power is going to be there. He hasn’t even faced his strength yet, which is left-handed pitching. He’s had to defend himself against right-handers, which he’s doing. But, his defense has remained the same and he’s taken good care of his body. His defense is legit.”
Over his career, he’s amassed 77 defensive runs saved and he’s a plus-1 in six games with the Tigers. His defensive acumen put him at the top of the Tigers’ list to fill in for the injured Riley Greene. Marisnick’s familiarity with Hinch and his methods has made the transition seamless.
“AJ came in there (to Houston) and did a good job, similar to what he’s doing here,” Marisnick said. “The players respect him. He goes about his business the right way. He has a good relationship with the players but also he keeps the ship steered in the right direction. He doesn’t let you get off the path too much.”
Hinch smiled when he was told Marisnick has never again run out on a field for a drill without wearing spikes since that spring-training explosion all those years ago.
“I’ve always taken pride in being able to maintain those relationships (with players) while holding them accountable to what this level is all about,” Hinch said. “I’m glad Jake mentioned that, because it means it mattered to him or he noticed it or he felt it was a positive interaction.”
All of the above.