March 2010

Rainy morning at Tradition Field

Conditions were less than ideal on Monday morning, as rain doused the eastern coast of Florida.

The Marlins and Mets game remains on schedule for 1:10 p.m. ET in Port St. Lucie. But due to the rain, the Marlins team bus wasn’t scheduled to leave until 10:30 a.m., as the team did some pregame work back at Jupiter.

The grounds crew had a busy morning working on the field.



Sanchez wins first base job

Second time around, Gaby Sanchez secured the spot.

The 26-year-old will be the Marlins starting first baseman.

gabystarting.jpgThe path was cleared for Sanchez on Monday when prospect Logan Morrison was reassigned to Minor League camp. Most likely, Morrison will open the season at Triple-A New Orleans, while Sanchez will experience his first Opening Day at the big league level.

A year ago, Sanchez was in a similar situation. The Miami native entered the 2009 Spring Training with an inside track to win the job. But he had an injury-plagued and inconsistent spring, and opened in Triple-A New Orleans.

That was then. With another year of Minor League seasoning under his belt, Sanchez has enjoyed a strong Spring Training.

In Grapefruit League play, Sanchez has stood out. Heading into Monday, he was batting .409 with two home runs and five RBIs in 44 at-bats. Morrison, meanwhile, finished his Grapefruit League stint with a .209 average and six RBIs in 43 at-bats.

In another roster move on Monday, the reliever Scott Strickland was reassigned to Minor League camp. The right-hander will head to New Orleans.

With Strickland out of camp, the Marlins final bullpen spot may wind up going to Seth McClung or Tim Wood. Rick VandenHurk is another possibility. But chances are VandenHurk will remain a starting pitcher, not a reliever. He will be able to do that at New Orleans. 

The question the team will ask is whether to stay with the experience of McClung or the youth of Wood. Weighing in Wood’s favor is the fact he’s on the 40-man roster. Wood hasn’t hurt his chances either, as he’s enjoyed a strong spring. In fact, he’s throwing better than McClung.

McClung, in camp on a Minor League contract, has a clause to opt out of his deal on April 1. McClung also gives flexibility because he has been a starter, long reliever, and he’s even closed in the big leagues. He is more of a multi-innings option than Wood.

Hayden Penn, who was out of options, was claimed off waivers by the Pirates on Monday.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez hinted on Sunday that Sanchez could win the first base job. Gonzalez noted that Sanchez was a catcher at the University of Miami, and for a short while in the Minor Leagues.

Sanchez could be the emergency third catcher, which means the Marlins would consider using either Ronny Paulino or John Baker as a pinch-hitter. Typically, teams shy away from using their backup catcher as a pinch-hitter.

Sanchez now provides roster flexibility.

Sanchez batted .289 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs at New Orleans last year. He also appeared in 21 games with the Marlins, and he has 26 games of big league experience the last two years.

— Joe Frisaro


Odds and ends for Sunday

Some interesting items to digest after meeting with manager Fredi Gonzalez on Sunday morning.

* The manager pointed out that Gaby Sanchez, who has caught in the Minor Leagues, gives flexibility as an emergency third catcher.

Stopping short of declaring Sanchez as the starting first baseman, Gonzalez noted that if Sanchez is an emergency third catcher option, it frees up the team to use either John Baker or Ronny Paulino as a pinch-hitter.

* The Marlins feel their final bullpen slot will be filled from pitchers who are in camp. Recently, Gonzalez declared Leo Nunez, Dan Meyer, Renyel Pinto, Brian Sanches, Burke Badenhop and Jose Veras as frontrunners to make the squad. That leaves one spot open. If the Marlins take another long reliever, Rick VandenHurk is an option. Otherwise, Seth McClung, Scott Strickland and Tim Wood are choices.

* The projected bench is — backup catcher, Wes Helms, Emilio Bonifacio, Brian Barden and Mike Lamb, who also has caught in his career.

* Cody Ross on Sunday was the DH in a Minor League game for the second straight day. Ross had a good day, going 2-for-4 with a double and home run. The double was off Scott Strickland in the intrasquad scrimmage. The homer was off Jeff Allison. Ross is expected to play six innings in the outfield of a Minor League game.

— Joe Frisaro



Rotation shaping up

No official word has been made yet regarding the Marlins rotation, but if the next week’s schedule of games means anything, the candidates are already lined up.

The Marlins on Sunday are starting Ricky Nolasco against the Astros at Roger Dean Stadium. On Monday, Anibal Sanchez will face the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Chris Volstad will throw on Tuesday in Jupiter against the Nationals.

josh-johnson.jpgAce Josh Johnson will take the mound on Wednesday at Port St. Lucie against the Mets. On Thursday, Clay Hensley will start in the final Grapefruit League contest, facing the Cardinals.

Nolasco will pitch against Double-A Jacksonville in Jacksonville. Sanchez gets the call on Saturday afternoon at low Class A Greensboro.

If this order stays in tact, which is expected, the rotation for the first week of the season will be:

April 5 at Mets: Josh Johnson

April 7 at Mets: Ricky Nolasco

April 8 at Mets: Anibal Sanchez

April 9 vs. Dodgers: Opening Night at Sun Life Stadium — Chris Volstad

The April 10 starter will be up on the air. It’s the first Super Saturday of the season, and a big crowd will be on hand.

Because the Marlins are off on April 6, Johnson would be available to face the Dodgers on April 10. The team is being flexible with that date. If Johnson has a non-taxing season opener at the Mets, he could come back and pitch. But if Johnson’s pitch count is high in the opener, and he had some stressful innings, he may instead pitch on Sunday, April 11 against the Dodgers.

How Johnson is will determine when Hensley would pitch. If Johnson pitches on April 10, Hensley would throw on Sunday. Hensley would be the option to throw on April 10 if Johnson throws on Sunday.

— Joe Frisaro


Marlins-Astros lineups

The Marlins send Ricky Nolasco to the mound on Sunday afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium. The Astros will be going with Felipe Paulino.







1) Michael Bourn, CF

2) Jeff Keppinger, 2B

3) Cory Sullivan, RF

4) Jason Michaels, LF

5) Geoff Blum, 1B

6) Chris Johnson, 3B

7) Edwin Maysonet, SS

8) Juan Castro, C

9) Felipe Paulino, P







1) Chris Coghlan, LF

2) Emilio Bonifacio, CF

3) Hanley Ramirez, SS

4) Jorge Cantu, 3B

5) Dan Uggla, 2B

6) Ronny Paulino, C

7) Gaby Sanchez, 1B

8) Bryan Petersen, RF

9) Ricky Nolasco, P

— Joe Frisaro


Special gift for Hanley

Draped around Hanley Ramirez’s neck as he left the ballpark on Saturday was a memento the Marlins shortstop will carry with him for a lifetime.

About 20 minutes before the Marlins faced the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium, team owner Jeffrey Loria presented Ramirez with a special gift for winning the 2009 N.L. batting title.

hanleyjewelry.jpgLoria handed Ramirez a diamond-studded chain with 342 inscribed on it. The necklace also reads: “Hanley Ramirez 2009 N.L. Batting Champ.”

On the back is the wording: “Congratulations — Jeffrey Loria.”

“It was a special accomplishment,” Loria said. “I just feel inspired from time to time to do things that players deserve, and players appreciate. Hanley did something magnificent last year. I thought about it at the end of the year, and I wanted to do something for him. We don’t wear jewelry on the field, but I know Hanley wears it off the field.”

Ramirez proudly walked out of the park with his new piece of jewelry.

“It means a lot. It’s something I never expected from him,” Ramirez said. “I’m going to keep it forever. I’m really honored.

“It meant a lot to him. From the first day, he showed me that love. Everybody loves him. We have a lot of respect for him. I think my whole family is going to be excited.”

Ramirez set a franchise record with his .342 average.

There are 394 diamonds, including a special teal diamond that represents the dot before the 342 batting average.

hanleygift1.jpgThe Marlins are making the chain part of their Opening Night home promotion. On April 9, when the Marlins open against the Dodgers at Sun Life Stadium, the first 5,000 fans will receive a replica of the necklace.

About a week ago, Ramirez caught wind that something may be going on. Loria, who has been working on the gift for three months, played along.

“He came to me last week, and he said, ‘Are you doing something for me?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what’s your shirt size?’

“I put it in a box the size of a shirt. I said, ‘You realize there is no shirt in here.’ He was very surprised. I like doing nice things for good people, and we have a lot of good people around here.”

On the picnic tables behind the clubhouse, Loria surprised Ramirez with the present. 

One of the most talented players in the game, Ramirez finished second to Albert Pujols in the MVP voting a year ago.

Early in his career, Ramirez batted leadoff, and he was a table setter. Now, he is hitting third, and he’s become a feared run producer.

“What I really enjoy now is listening to the ball off the bat,” Loria said of watching Ramirez hit. “It sounds differently. It moves more quickly. And it gets there in a hurry. He really punishes a baseball.

“He’s got this amazing talent. There is really no telling what the limits are for Hanley. The sky is the limit, and he will determine his own future, obviously. But he’s a great kid.”

— Joe Frisaro

(photo Denis Bancroft/Florida Marlins)



J.J. may throw on Wednesday

Josh Johnson is still battling a stomach virus — or flu-like symptoms.

Yet, the Marlins ace is feeling better, and plans are being made to keep him on pace to start on Opening Day against the Mets on April 5 at Citi Field.

Johnson is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Sunday, and if he makes his start on Wednesday against the Mets, he will throw on Opening Day.

Johnson was scratched on Friday due to the stomach virus.

Even though he will face the Mets again on Opening Day, the Marlins rather have Johnson see the Mets in a Grapefruit League game instead of throwing in a Minor League game.

Johnson came to camp late Saturday morning, and he threw off flat ground for about five minutes. The right-hander headed for home before the Marlins played the Cardinals.

If Johnson is not ready to pitch on Opening Day, Ricky Nolasco would get the nod.

— Joe Frisaro


Marlins-Cardinals lineups for Saturday

The Marlins are the visiting team on Saturday against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Clay Hensley will look to improve his chances of winning the fifth starter spot. Brad Penny is pitching for St. Louis. 









1) Chris Coghlan, LF

2) Cameron Maybin, CF

3) Hanley Ramirez, SS

4) Jorge Cantu, 3B

5) Dan Uggla, 2B

6) John Baker, C

7) Mike Stanton, RF

8) Gaby Sanchez, 1B

9) Clay Hensley, P










1) Skip Schumaker, 2B

2) Brendan Ryan, SS

3) Albert Pujols, 1B

4) Matt Holliday, LF

5) Felipe Lopez, RF

6) David Freese, 3B

7) Joe Mather, CF

8) Jason LaRue, C

9) Brad Penny, P

— Joe Frisaro


Avoiding tipping his hand

Spring Training is a time to work on things, make corrections and prepare for the regular season.

For Leo Nunez, it’s also time to figure out something glaring he has been doing wrong.

leo-nunez-46-2009-mlb-florida-marlins.jpgA couple of days ago in Fort Myers, pitching coach Randy St. Claire pointed out that the Marlins closer has been tipping his pitches. Basically, but his glove positioning, Nunez was telegraphing when he would throw his fastball and changeup.

In looking at video from this spring and last year, it seems Nunez had been getting into this habit.

“It’s something I’m working on every day,” Nunez said. “For my changeup, I’m a little bit here [by his belt]. And my fastball, I’m a little here [glove closer to his face]. I have to do everything the same.”

St. Claire picked up on something being possibly wrong on March 11, when the Marlins faced the Cardinals. Entering in a save situation, Nunez gave up five runs (three earned) in two-thirds of an inning.

“I have to do everything the same, with my changeup, fastball and slider,” Nunez said. “I’m working every day.”

In terms of how he is throwing the ball, Nunez is doing fine. His fastball is gaining life, and his changeup is considered an “out pitch.” He says his slider is also coming along.

“Every day I’m working on my slider,” he said. “Every day it is getting better.”

Nunez has made six appearances in Spring Training, and he’s lined up for a few more outings, including working a two-inning stint before Opening Day on April 5 against the Mets in New York.

— Joe Frisaro


Condor taking off in camp

A little advice for prospects in their first big league camp — be careful what you wish for.

If you’re not, you might find a picture of yourself with your face photo-shopped on top of a large vulture.

condor1a.jpgProspect Bryan Petersen inadvertently coined his own nickname, and veteran Wes Helms has made sure it sticks.

Petersen recently stated he wanted a cool, bird-like nickname, and the outfielder tossed out the named, “Condor.”

Now, the name plate above Petersen’s locker reads, “Condor.”

Ok, it doesn’t roll off the tongue like Roy “Doc” Halladay, or the “Sultan of Swat,” or Hanley Ramirez’s “H2R” moniker, but it works in the Marlins clubhouse.

The nickname evolved earlier in camp when Petersen saw Andre Dawson walk through the clubhouse. Because Dawson is commonly called “Hawk,” Petersen basically made a throw-away comment that he wished he had a cool nickname like Hawk.

The exchange between Petersen and Helms went something like this:

Petersen: “I wish I had a cool one syllable nickname like Condor.”

Helms replied: “First of all, Condor is two syllables, and second, that’s your nickname.”

Called “Uncle Wes” by his teammates, Helms is taking Petersen under his wing. So much so that Helms insisted on Petersen’s locker be moved next to his, so he can keep close tabs on the young outfielder.

The nickname Petersen commonly goes by is “Petey.” But “Condor” is catching on.

— Joe Frisaro

(photo courtesy of Wes Helms)