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Ketel Marte ‘better than average’ at 2B in first start for D-backs

Arizona Diamondbacks' Ketel Marte swings for an RBI triple off San Francisco Giants' Jeff Samardzija during the first inning of a spring training baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – If given the choice, Ketel Marte would choose shortstop. That’s where he prefers to play. But more than anything, Marte prefers to play. Period.

“Anywhere,” he said Sunday, adding with a smile, “If I have to play catcher, I can play catcher, too.”

Marte has used that line a couple of times here in spring training, his second with the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s a line, though, that fits given Marte, 24, is from the baseball-loving Dominican Republic.

“I’m Dominican,” he said. “I’m just looking for the opportunity anywhere that the skipper puts me. I’m going to do my best for my team. I just know how to play baseball, that’s it.”

Currently, Marte finds himself competing with Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings to be the D-backs’ starting shortstop. That competition is ongoing, and will likely continue all the way through the end of spring training.

Yet, on Saturday at Camelback Ranch, Marte found himself playing second base for the first time in a Cactus League game.

“Everything was great,” he said. “I know how to play second base. I know it’s hard for me a little bit because I’ve been playing shortstop my whole career. I just have to make adjustments, and I know I’ll be great.”

The biggest adjustment is the double-play ball, according to Marte.

“It’s kind of different,” he said. “It’s a little bit hard, but I’ve been practicing a lot on that and I know what kind of talent I have and I know everything is going to be good.”

In five innings against the L.A. Dodgers, Marte turned two double plays.

“I thought he looked OK for his first time there in a couple of years,” manager Torey Lovullo said Sunday, prior to the D-backs hosting the Cubs at a sold-out Salt River Fields.

Marte last played second base in a big-league game during the 2015 season. He was a rookie then with the Seattle Mariners. That year Marte made four appearances at second base, including three starts.

Those are Marte’s only games on the right side of the infield. He has, though, played some second base in winter ball back home in the Dominican Republic.

“There’s a comfort level that he has there knowing that he’s done it before but to get the reps and do it right now after playing so many games at shortstop is going to be a little bit of an adjustment for him,” Lovullo said.

“All things considered, I thought his angles to the ball were very good. He turned two. It wasn’t a perfect throw but it looked like his timing was good. An overall summary, I would say it was better than average and there’s a lot of room for him to improve through the reps, and I know that he’s working hard to get comfortable there.”

It would make sense for the D-backs to take a look at Marte at second base. There’s a hole there after the trade of Brandon Drury. Daniel Descalso will certainly get his starts there, as he did last season. So too will Owings, who the D-backs plan to play all over the diamond in 2018.

Playing Marte at second base with Ahmed or Owings at shortstop would certainly solidify the middle infield, especially defensively. It would also get Marte’s bat — in five spring-training games, he’s hitting .333 (4-for-12) with one triple, one RBI and two walks — in the lineup on a more consistent basis.

Last season, Marte was key for the D-backs.

Following injuries to Ahmed and Owings, Marte was recalled from Triple-A Reno and hit .260 with 11 doubles, two triples, five home runs and 18 RBI in 73 games. He was even better in the postseason, going 7-for-17 (.412) with two triples and one home run over four games.

“He was in the category of a player that if he doesn’t come up and do what he did, we probably would not have lasted as long and gone as far in our playoff chase and then our playoff games. He was an incredible addition from player development,” Lovullo said. “It was fun to watch him play at the pace in which he played in and have the success in which he had. A special player that did special things for us at special times. We leaned on him and we were lucky to have him.”

To his credit, Marte is not looking back at last season as a predictor of what’s to come this season.

“I hope to be a better player and I hope have a better season than last year. If I feel healthy, I know what I can do. I know what kind of talent I have,” he said. “I just need the opportunity. If they give me the opportunity, then I’m going to try to do my best for my team and try to help my team win every time.”

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