After 2019 slump, Aguilar hopes to bounce back with Marlins

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Jesús Aguilar joined the Miami Marlins to repair his swing and restore his confidence.

They go hand in hand, he figures. Both went south last year, when the 250-pound first baseman failed to hit his weight and lost his starting job with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Aguilar continued to struggle after he was traded in July to Tampa Bay. The Marlins claimed him off waivers during the offseason, and he says he learned from his slump and is ready for a rebound.

“When things don’t happen the way you want, the confidence goes down a little bit,” Aguilar says. “But now it’s over, and mentally I’m fresh and ready to go. Baseball is up and down, and the important thing is to stay focused and don’t lose your mind. You have to stay strong.”

Aguilar had a breakout season with the Brewers in 2018, when he made the All-Star team, hit 35 homers and drove in 108 runs while batting .274.

But he started poorly last season and was demoted to a part-time role. He batted a bit better for the Rays to finish at .236 with 12 homers and 50 RBIs.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly says it’s understandable Aguilar lost confidence.

“It happens,” Mattingly says. “He didn’t swing the bat good early. The next thing you know you’re not playing regularly, and things can go sideways.

“If we can get this guy back on track, he’s pretty much a stalwart in your lineup.”

Aguilar joins a team that was just bad as he was in 2019, losing 105 games. The Marlins would love for him to claim the cleanup spot and add punch to a lineup that ranked last in the majors in homers in 2019.

He’s off to a decent start in spring training, with three hits, three walks and three strikeouts in his first 15 plate appearances. He’s a low-risk short-term investment for the rebuilding Marlins, even after he was given a raise from $637,500 to $2,575,000 in arbitration.

If Aguilar bounces back this year, he could become part of the foundation for a winning team. If he doesn’t, he’s a placeholder until one of the Marlins’ many prospects takes over at first base.

“I’m hoping for the ’18 Aguilar,” Mattingly said. “I’ve seen it. This guy can be dangerous. It’s thump in our lineup. And he’s a good defender. He’s a lot more athletic than if you look at the body.”

He’s also an exuberant personality — the sort CEO Derek Jeter seeks to provide veteran leadership for the Marlins’ many young players.

“That’s me — you’re going to see a lot of smiling,” Aguilar says. “It was a rough year last year for this team. I try to be happy and not too serious. This game is too hard already.”

As he was reminded last season.

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