Bell was in his first season with Cleveland and things were definitely not going well — so poorly, in fact, it seemed unlikely the Guardians would find a trade partner for the struggling slugger.
Only the Marlins had interest in signing Bell during the offseason and had an underperforming free agent of their own in Jean Segura.
Although Cleveland released Segura and paid him the remainder of his salary (approximately $12.5 million through 2024) to move on, Bell has turned things around in Miami.
In his first game with Miami on Aug. 2, he went 2-for-5 with a home run, a pair of RBI and four runs scored in a 9-8 12-inning win over the Phillies.
It was a big day for Bell compared to his previous struggles in Cleveland where he had gone 2-for-20 prior to the trade with a .239/.295/.395 slash in the month of July.
Bell came into Saturday at .288/.360/.588 in August with the Marlins.
“Obviously, this is a new team, a new opportunity and a new task at hand,” Bell said Saturday afternoon before the Marlins played host to the Nationals.
“I feel like in Cleveland that I was leading the league in lineouts. It was a tough go when it felt like every ball hit into the outfield, someone was tracking it down.”
When Bell reported to the Marlins the day after the trade, he was one of the first players in the clubhouse to meet with his new teammates and coaching staff.
That trait has not changed, manager Skip Schumaker says, and he has praised both Bell and fellow trade addition Jake Burger for their commitment to coming in early for batting practice and prep work.
“It is not eyewash when someone does that,” Schumaker said. “There are some guys who come in to ‘check a box,’ but he does it trying to ramp up and get ready for a game. It is all business when he gets in here. He is a good guy who checks in with his teammates, don’t get me wrong.
“But he is all business and that sets a tone when you have a guy come in who has been there and done it before. It rubs off on the other guys. We had some guys who already did it. But adding a guy with a veteran presence who is not a box-checker but works to get better every day can only help a clubhouse.’’
Even though Bell had a rough night at the plate in Friday’s 7-4 loss to the Nationals in the opening game of this three-game set, he has been pretty steady throughout August and has seen his numbers rise from what was a disappointing stint in Cleveland.
Coming into Saturday, Bell had hit seven home runs with 12 RBI for Miami in August and his OPS with the Marlins is .947 after being just .701 with the Guardians.
“Look at the underlying numbers [in Cleveland] and he was hitting the ball really hard,” Schumaker said. “He was just having some bad luck and that can happen. In the end, the cream always rises to the top and you are who you are. The numbers will come if you work hard and are healthy.’’
One person Bell was excited to see upon arriving in Miami was batting coach Brant Brown, someone he says he has “trusted from afar for a long time,’’ after meeting Brown during the 2019 All-Star Game.
Bell says he learned a lot from Brown during their short time together at that All-Star Game as members of the National League team in Cleveland, bringing back some of Brown’s advanced hitting metrics like heat maps and “go zones” to Pittsburgh where he was playing at the time.
“Brant and I have been working tirelessly and changed some of the things in the routine,” Bell said last week in San Diego.
“Seeing the results that night really fuels the fire and hopefully there is more to come. He has told me there is a lot more in me that he is trying to get out. I am trusting the process and seeing where it can take me.”
On Saturday, Bell credited working with Brown changed his launch angle “and on balls in the zone I was supposed to hit, now I am hammering, which definitely helps. It’s a perfect storm. Things are coming together.”
This past offseason, Schumaker and the Marlins lured Brown away from the Dodgers where he had spent the past five seasons — including three where he shared the hitting coach responsibilities with Robert Van Scoyoc.
“When you are identifying guys you want to acquire, you try to find out how coachable they are and what kind of character they have,” Schumaker said last week. “Josh Bell is a good player and there was not much to tweak … but he had a small history with Brant and loved his ideas on how to game plan and has bought right in.”
While Bell’s numbers at the plate have gone up during his brief time in Miami, team success has not really followed.
Miami rallied to win its first game with Bell and Burger in the lineup on Aug. 2 but came into Saturday just 8-14 this month.
The Marlins entered the day with losses in five of their past six and seven of nine and were 2 1/2 games out of a wild-card position.
Miami was tied with Milwaukee for a spot in the playoffs on Aug. 2.
With 32 games remaining after Saturday, the Marlins do have plenty of time to get things back on track.
Bell referenced a suddenly-tight AL West race where Seattle has won nine of 10 and the Rangers came into Saturday with eight consecutive losses as evidence that Miami is not done by any stretch.
“The overall outcome has kind of fallen short of what we had hoped, but we’re still in striking distance and we’re right where we want to be. I could not be happier,” Bell said.
“You look across the league and I don’t think Seattle was looking at an eight-game win streak. They were just taking it one game at a time.’‘
Marlins lose to Nationals with late collapse
The Marlins continued to struggle as they gave up two runs in the top of the ninth and fell to the visiting Nationals 3-2 on Saturday.
Lane Thomas led off the inning with a triple but was thrown out at home on a beautiful play from second baseman Luis Arraez as he played up on the infield grass, made a diving stop on a grounder from Dominic Smith and fired a strike to catcher Jacob Stallings for the first out.
With two outs and a 3-2 count, Jake Alu grounded one through the middle of the infield to score Jacob Young to tie the score. Michael Chavis raced home from third on a passed ball from Stallings to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead.
Robertson (4-5) took the loss with his fourth blown save since joining Miami.
Miami has now lost eight of its past 10 and dropped to .500 after being 14-over at the All-Star break.
“It’s not lack of effort,’’ manager Skip Shumaker said. “All the guys are giving everything they’ve got and I think that’s why it makes it even tougher.”
The loss spoiled a nice start from Eury Perez who did not give up his first hit until there were two outs in the fourth with Washington taking the lead on a throwing error from Joey Wendle on the following batter.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Jordan McPherson contributed to this report.