Pitchers ready to face hitters

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins’ first Grapefruit League game is Saturday, so it’s time to pick things up in Spring Training.

Monday promises to be the most exciting day yet in Miami camp. That’s because for the first time, pitchers will be facing hitters. Now, it will be in a controlled setting, with pitchers throwing behind an screen and batters will be under the turtle-shaped cage. The hitters also will know what pitch is coming.

Practice begins at 10 a.m. on the back fields of the Roger Dean Stadium complex.

A couple of things to watch for right away. Top prospect, Jose Fernandez, will be facing batters. The 20-year-old has been very encouraged with his first few bullpen sessions. He’s throwing hard, the fastball has life, and it is staying down.

Pitchers always have the early advantage, because they’ve been on the mound more. But some hitters to watch, besides Giancarlo Stanton, of course, are Adeiny Hechavarria, Joe Mahoney and Derek Dietrich.

Hechavarria, wearing No. 3, is going to get plenty of attention, simply because he is taking over for Jose Reyes. Born in Cuba, his defense is highly touted. Can he hit? The Marlins feel he can be a solid offensive player. If he is, he mixes that with Gold Glove-caliber defense, and he has the chance to be a successful big leaguer.

Mahoney is a left-handed bat, and he’s in the mix at first base. He’s got power, something the team lacks.

If you are looking for a sleeper in camp, keep an eye out for Dietrich. He was acquired from the Rays for Yunel Escobar. His bat is worth keeping an eye on. Right now, the projection is he will open the season at Double-A Jacksonville, but who knows. Dietrich will get looks at second and third base.

A year ago, Donovan Solano was the sleeper in camp, and he made a case to be on the Opening Day roster. Dietrich may wind up having that kind of spring.

Perhaps the most unheralded solid prospect in the organization is infielder Danny Black, considered a fundamentally sound, solid player. Black, like so many others, is expected to open in Jacksonville.

Reliever Jon Rauch, according to manager Mike Redmond, is the frontrunner to setup in the eighth inning for closer Steve Cishek.

Miami will face the Cardinals on Saturday. Wade LeBlanc and John Maine are being considered to make that start.

Joe Frisaro

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