CINCINNATI — Triple-A Syracuse manager Randy Knorr and first baseman Chris Marrero know one another well. Knorr has traversed the minor leagues as a manager along a similar path of that of the Nationals 2006 first-round draft pick. He’s watched Marrero grow from a 17-year-old fresh out of high school with an unsure defensive position into a poised 23-year-old hitter and competent first baseman.
It was a special moment for the two, then, when Knorr opened the door to his office in Syracuse Friday afternoon about an hour before the Chiefs were set to begin a doubleheader and summoned Marrero into his office. The topic, Marrero thought, would be Knorr informing Marrero that he wasn’t going to play in the nightcap. Instead it was the news he’s been waiting to hear all his life.
“(Knorr) just told me, ‘You’ve been working hard for five years,’” Marrero recalled. “‘Now finally I’m happy to be the one to tell you that you’re going to be in the big leagues.’
“(Knorr) has been my mentor since I’ve been in Washington and he’s helped me. I’m glad it was him to be the one to give me the good news.”
Marrero first called his parents in Miami, Fla., a conversation he called “ecstatic,” and then got on a plane bound for Cincinnati. He arrived around midnight and was at the field ready to go early Saturday afternoon. His mother, Dania, and father, Vladimir, along with his sister, Christina, and girlfriend, Leanne Lopez, did the same from Florida and were in Cincinnati ready to watch Marrero make his debut Saturday evening.
“I was just happy,” Marrero said. “I’m excited to be here.”
Nationals manager Davey Johnson wasted no time getting Marrero involved, slotting him into the lineup in the seven-hole and starting him at first base. As a result, Michael Morse shifted to left field, Laynce Nix to right field and Jayson Werth to center, where he played 21 games last year and has played 103 times in his career. It may be a one-day thing or it may last longer, but Marrero’s arrival not only allowed the Nationals to return Morse to left field in preparation for next year, it allows them to evaluate Werth in center.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Johnson said, having seen Marrero in Double-A when he was working as an advisor for the Natioanls. “It seems like the size of his arms have about doubled. He worked out real hard. He’s got a good bat. He’s worked on his defense. I’m happy to have him. I’ll be anxious to see him play.”
Saturday night, even with all the position switching going on behind him, the stage will mostly belong to Marrero who went through five years, three positions and a leg injury to finally make it to the major leagues. His hitting rarely faltered. His batting average by year since 2006 and at each level goes like this: .309 (GCL, 2006), .293 (SAL, 2007), .259 (CAR, 2007), .250 (CAR, 2008 - injury shortened), .287 (CAR, 2009), .267 (EL, 2009), .295 (EL, 2010), .300 (IL, 2011) and his on-base percentage and slugging percentages never dipped below .337 and .387, respectively. More often than not, in fact, they were significantly higher than those marks.
His defense, however, took some time to evolve. Marrero, while tipping his cap to the field and the grounds crew in Syracuse, admitted that he “really felt comfortable out there this year,” at first base. “Once you get comfortable,” he said. “You get confident.”
“I’ve always been ready (to play in the big leagues),” Marrero said. “It’s just not up to me to get called up. I just go out there and I play. If it’s my time to play then I’ll play but I’m not thinking about too much right now. I’m just thinking about being here, finally. My goal was to be in the big leagues and I’m here so I just want to take advantage of it and have fun.
“Randy just would tell me every day, have fun and the rest will take care of itself.”
With Marrero, Ryan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler starting the game, it will mark the first time in Nationals history (since 2005) that they’ve had three first-round picks starting the same game.