MIAMI – Fredi Gonzalez was fired as Marlins manager two weeks after Giancarlo Stanton made his major league debut for the Marlins in June 2010, so most of his experience with Stanton came in facing him 18-19 times a season when Gonzalez managed the Braves from 2011 until he was fired in May 2016.
But Gonzalez, who returned to the Marlins as third-base coach this season, has had an up-close view of Stanton’s thunderous power-hitting displays -- sometimes a little too close for comfort from Gonzalez’s position in the coach’s box. Stanton entered Saturday’s penultimate game of the season against the Braves with 59 homers, the most in the majors since Barry Bonds hit his record 73 homers in 2001 and Sammy Sosa had 64 that same season.
“It’s been fun,” Gonzalez said. “People ask me what’s the longest home run you’ve seen him hit. And I tell them, I stopped looking after about 20. Now I look at the third baseman, or the shortstop, or you look in the opposing dugout and see the opposing hitting coach go, ‘Holy (bleep),’ you know? They’re appreciating the ball, the distance.
“There’s no better form of appreciation from your opponent than when he hits a home run and you’ve got, like, (shortstop) Freddy Galvis and (third baseman Maikel) Franco of the Phillies and they’re talking in Spanish, saying, ‘Did you see that ball? I’m glad he didn’t hit it on the ground.’ That kind of stuff. That’s when you start realizing how special this guy is.
“The ball that hit (Friday) night sounded like it came out of the barrel of a gun.”
Gonzalez was talking about the second of Stanton’s two homers in Thursday’s series opener against the Braves, a line drive off reliever Rex Brothers that traveled an estimated 467 feet and had an exit velocity of nearly 119 mph, the fourth-hardest hit ball since Statcast began tracking such things in 2015.
That was Stanton’s third multi-homer game against the Braves this season, after he had only two multi-homer games in 92 career games against them before 2017. His 10 multi-homer games this season before Saturday were one behind the major league record set by Hank Greenberg in 1938 and matched by Sosa in 1998.
In his past nine games against the Braves before Saturday, Stanton was 14-for-34 (.412) with three doubles, six homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.029 slugging percentage. In 71 games since the All-Star break, he had a staggering 33 home runs, 72 RBIs and a .718 slugging percentage before Saturday.
“I’ve never seen anything like the stretch he had after the All-Star break,” Gonzalez said, referring to remarkable stretch in which Stanton hit .347 with 30 home runs, 60 RBIs and a .926 slugging percentage in 48 games from July 5 through Aug. 29. “I’ve read about them, with (Mark) MacGwire and Bonds and Sosa, but to experience it, I was like, wow.”
Until this season, the Braves handled Stanton far better than most teams did. In seven previous seasons, Stanton hit .204 (64-for-313) with 13 home runs, 42 RBIs and a .704 OPS in 92 games against the Braves, posting a .321 OBP and .383 slugging percentage against them with 105 strikeouts and 53 walks.
But he’s been an absolute menace against the Braves this season. In 17 games games against them before Saturday, Stanton hit .303 (20-for-66) with eight homers, 14 RBIs and a 1.097 OPS, including a .370 OBP and .727 slugging percentage.
That’s 13 homers and a .383 slugging percentage in 92 games against the Braves before this season, and eight homers and a .727 slugging percentage in 17 games against them this season.
“He’s really good and he doesn’t miss a mistake,” said Braves pitcher Julio Teheran, who gave up the first of Stanton’s homers in Thursday’s game, on a first-pitch curveball.
Stanton is only 5-for-35 in his career against Teheran, albeit with three homers.
“He’s kind of different (this season), especially the way he’s just standing on home plate,” Teheran said. “Something new as a pitcher, you never see him standing like that. You don’t know what to throw, you might think if you throw it there he’s going to hit it. I just tried to make my pitches. (Catcher Tyler Flowers) and I had a little plan, and he got us there on that pitch.”
Teheran and Brothers shouldn’t feel too bad. Stanton has done a lot of damage against an awful lot of pitchers this season.
“I always appreciated him across the diamond for 18 games,” Gonzalez said. “I got to watch 162 this year and I get to see the behind-the-scenes. I’ve been really impressed. This guy comes to work, knock on wood it’s been his healthiest year, he prepares, you can almost set your watch by where he’s going to be. Before he takes BP he goes in and warms up, he’ll take ground balls in the outfield. I mean, he takes his whole game into consideration. I think he’s underrated in the outfield. Everybody talks about his bat, but for me he’s got to be up there in the Gold Glove consideration….
“I really appreciate his work ethic. And he wants to win.”