As a utility infielder, Chris Valaika said he has carried a first baseman’s glove in his travel bag in case of an emergency.
Valaika finally put the glove to work Wednesday, getting his first career start at first base after manager Mike Redmond decided to give Greg Dobbs a day off against a left-handed pitcher. It wasn’t just the first time Valaika played first base in the big leagues — it was the first ever in a game, Little League included.
“With Cincinnati, I had always taken ground balls over there just in case,” said Valaika, who in a span of 35 games through three-plus big-league seasons has played third base, second base and shortstop. “There was a time when Joey [ Votto] was out where I almost got in. But it never happened. … This is Day One.”
Valaika, who has known for the past few days he would likely get a start at first, had been taking grounders at first with the Marlins since the spring and began getting more work there once Casey Kotchman went on the disabled list last Thursday with a strained left hamstring.
“I remember Jack [ McKeon] threw me into third base [for one game during the 2003 season], and I had never played third base,” Redmond said. “I said, ‘Jack I’ve never played third base in the big leagues.’ He said, ‘Oh man, I’ve seen you take grounders over there during batting practice — you’re fine.’ So, [Valaika is] an infielder. He’ll be fine over there.”
Redmond said first base help could be on the way in the next week or two. Left-handed hitting Joe Mahoney, who showed some power this spring before going on the disabled list March22 with an intercostal strain, played in his first rehab game Wednesday. He went 1 for 4 with a home run and two strikeouts in extended spring training, according to Redmond. Mahoney is expected to get some more at-bats with SingleA Jupiter soon, Redmond said.
“We all liked him in spring training,” Redmond said of Mahoney. “When we talked about a guy who could potentially hit behind [ Giancarlo Stanton], he was one of the guys. He has a lot of pop. He was having a good spring and just got hurt that last two weeks of spring training and that was it. Had he stayed healthy — that decision probably would have been a lot tougher.”
Logan Morrison, who was slated to be the Marlins’ Opening Day first baseman but is still recovering from knee surgery, said Monday his target date for his first rehab action is May 3. Morrison is hitting, throwing and now just beginning to put his full weight on his knee while running.
Even tough he got a chance to play a few games at home during the World Baseball Classic last month, Stanton said Tuesday he’s still getting adjusted to the new grass that was installed at Marlins Park during the offseason.
“Super fast,” Stanton said of the new Tifway 419 Bermuda grass in the outfield that replaced the Celebration Bermuda grass, which began to brown in certain patches during the park’s inaugural season.
“It’s almost like AstroTturf-fast. Doesn’t remind me of any grass field I’ve played on before.”
The outfield grass at Marlins Park, which also is used at Sun Life Stadium, is different than what it is being used in the infield and in foul territory. That sod is known as Platinum TE Paspalum. But it, too, plays fast.
“Different than last year for sure,” second baseman Donovan Solano said. “The grass was quick, faster. I felt the difference.”
• Tuesday night’s announced crowd of 14,222 was the smallest in Marlins Park’s brief history. The Marlins, who obviously expected smaller crowds this season with only 5,000 season-ticket holders (a drop-off from 12,000 a year ago), only drew fewer than Tuesday’s total 14 times in their final year at Sun Life Stadium.
• Friday: Marlins RHP Ricky Nolasco (0-1, 3.97 ERA) vs. Phillies LHP John Lannan (0-0, 3.86 ERA), 7:10 p.m. Marlins Park.
• Scouting report: The Phillies won last year’s season series 10-8, but went 4-5 at Marlins Park.