February 2013

Let the Spring Training games begin

New media entrance to press box at Roger Dean Stadium.

New media entrance to press box at Roger Dean Stadium.

JUPITER, Fla. — After 11 days of drills, the Marlins are finally ready to play some games.

Miami on Saturday is opening its Grapefruit League season, facing the Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. ET at Roger Dean Stadium.

The Marlins are starting John Maine, a non-roster invitee competing for the fifth starter spot.

“These workouts have been great,” first-year manager Mike Redmond said. “Everybody has been working hard, getting their work in. There has been great energy out there. I’ve been very happy with the way we’ve approached these last eight days or so. But when you start talking about evaluating guys, it’s when they get in the game situations, and you see a different uniform. That’s when you really see what you’ve got. That’s what I’m really excited for, to play these games and see these guys.”

MARLINS

1) Pierre, LF
2) Polanco, 3B
3) Stanton, RF
4) Mahoney, 1B
5) Solano, 2B
6) Silverio, DH
7) Mathis, C
8) Hechavarria, SS
9) Hernandez, CF

Joe Frisaro

MRI reveals Ruggiano has back strain

JUPITER, Fla. — Results of an MRI revealed, Marlins outfielder Justin Ruggiano has a back strain.

The fact that it is so early in Spring Training, Ruggiano will take as much time as necessary to recover.

“I’m not sure how long he is out,” manager Mike Redmond said. “He is getting treatments. We’ll just have to see day-to-day, how that progresses.”

Projected as Miami’s starting center fielder, Ruggiano tweaked his lower back while fielding a ground ball in the outfield on Thursday. He had an MRI taken later in the afternoon.

On Friday morning, Ruggiano said his back still was tight.

“I don’t feel any better,” he said.

Ruggiano was hampered by back spasms last season. Tests taken then showed there was no structural damage.

The Marlins open their Grapefruit League schedule on Saturday against the Cardinals.

Gorkys Hernandez, Chris Coghlan, Bryan Petersen, Kevin Mattison and Juan Pierre are candidates to play center.

Stanton batting third: Giancarlo Stanton will bat third on Saturday in the Marlins’ Grapefruit League opener against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.

“I want to get him as many at-bats as we can,” Redmond said. “We’ve got to get him ready for the Classic. He needs to get in there, and get as many at-bats as he can. So that he feels comfortable that when he leaves here, he’s ready to go there. In that Classic, they’re going to play multiple games. He needs to feel like he’s ready to play, and play a full game by the time he leaves.”

Stanton will be playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, and he will be leaving Marlins camp on March 3 to get ready.

Playing on Saturday: Who will be playing on Saturday has been announced, but where they will hit in the lineup has yet to be revealed. Redmond only announced Stanton will bat third. John Maine will be the starting pitcher, but he will not bat.

The starters will be: Jeff Mathis (catcher), Joe Mahoney (first base), Donovan Solano (second base), Adeiny Hechavarria (shortstop), Placido Polanco (third base), Juan Pierre (left field), Gorkys Hernandez (center field), Stanton (right fielder) and Alfredo Silverio (designated hitter).

Joe Frisaro

Stop it! Hill keeping infielders on their toes

Infield coach Perry Hill demostrating and applauding his infielders.

Infield coach Perry Hill demostrating and applauding his infielders.

JUPITER, Fla. — There is no mistaking when a Marlins’ infielder makes a perfectly executed play. They are reminded by two simple, yet forcefully delivered words: “Stop it!”

Infield coach Perry Hill, one of the best in the business, keeps his defenders on their toes every second they are on the field.

Every time Hill sees something he likes, he blurts out, “Stop it!” Make no mistake, “Stop it!” is a good thing. Players, coaches and fans watching the drills on the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium the past few days have been thoroughly entertained and amused by Hill’s passion.

“When I see something that is perfectly executed based on the fundamentals of the result, it merits a, ‘Stop it!’ Hill said.

On Thursday morning, Hill gave an exuberant “Stop it!,” followed by a tip of his cap to shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria for starting a routine double play.

Through the years, he’s put together instructional videos. He has his “6Fs of Fielding” — feet, field, funnel, footwork fire, follow. Simply put, Hill aims to put players in position to be successful.

In his respected career, Hill has worked with a number of Gold Gloves winners, including Luis Castillo, Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee with the Marlins.

Hill’s techniques are being implemented throughout the Marlins’ Minor League systems.

Before drills on Friday morning, Hill had pictures taken of himself demonstrating techniques. The photos are being used to update an instructional manual that he first put together when he was with the Rangers in 1984.

At the time, Marty Scott, now the Marlins vice president of player development, was Texas’ farm director.

It was in his days with the Rangers that Hill first starter screaming, “Stop it!” during drills.

“I remember the first player who reacted to it was Billy Haselman, a catcher,” Hill said of the former big leaguer. “We were trying to teach him how to play first base, just for an extra position to play to get his bat more times in the game.

“He had finally figured out what I wanted at first base. I yelled, ‘Stop it!’ He yelled, ‘What, what’s wrong with that?’ I said, ‘Stop it is a good thing.’ “

Joe Frisaro

Ruggiano experiences back tightness

JUPITER, Fla. — While fielding a ground ball in drills on Thursday, Justin Ruggiano experienced lower back tightness.

Last season, Ruggiano dealt with back spasms.

Being it is so early in Spring Training, the Miami outfielder will take it easy for a couple of days.

“It’s not fun,” Ruggiano said. “It’s annoying, frustrating. I’m angry that I have not got a hold on what to do.”

Ruggiano enters Spring Training as the frontrunner to be the Opening Day center fielder.

The Marlins already face the likelihood that Logan Morrison will not be ready for Opening Day.

Morrison, recovering from right knee surgery, hopes to play sometime in April. On Thursday, he began a running program on an anti-gravity treadmill.

Also on Thursday, Giancarlo Stanton hit in the cages. The All-Star right fielder, who was plunked on the back of his head by a pitch on Wednesday, expects to return to practice on Friday.

Joe Frisaro

Stanton back and in good spirits

JUPITER, Fla. — In good spirits, Giancarlo Stanton was back to work on Thursday morning at Marlins camp.

A day after being plunked in the back of his head by a pitch, Stanton said he is feeling considerably better. But he is taking it easy on Thursday. He will be monitored in his weight training, and he hopes to take some swings in the batting cage.

“It all checked out fine,” Stanton said Thursday morning. “I was pretty loopy, I must say, yesterday. But for the most part, I feel fine. Back. But we’re going to see how much activity in the weightroom, and how that goes. I’d like to at least get some hitting in today. It’s probably smarter not to do too much. But I’ll go according to what I’m feeling, and what makes sense.”

During a simulated game on Wednesday, Stanton was pegged in the back of the head by a Jose Fernandez fastball. The 23-year-old slugger said the ball got him just below the helmet, between the base of his skull and the top of his neck.

He was able to walk off the field, and a few minutes later, he returned to the clubhouse for tests. An X-ray was taken later, and it came back negative. Stanton was joking around on Thursday morning, and back to his old self.

What he is monitoring is that he doesn’t experience any dizziness. He noted that his vision got a little disoriented after the incident.

Tests are showing there are no concussion-like symptoms.

“Right after it happened, the outside of my eyes were blurry,” Stanton said.

His vision briefly became fuzzy.

“I was feeling a little off,” he said.

The Marlins open Grapefruit League play on Saturday against the Cardinals. Stanton says he expects to be ready to play.

Joe Frisaro

Stanton plunked in helmet by pitch

JUPITER, Fla. — Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton was struck in the helmet by a fastball during a simulated game on Wednesday afternoon, and the All-Star will go through a set of tests to determine the severity of the blow.

Giancarlo Stanton gets ride back after being struck in helmet by a pitch.

Giancarlo Stanton gets ride back after being struck in helmet by a pitch.

On Field 4 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex, prospect Jose Fernandez’s first-pitch fastball sailed up and clipped Stanton in the helmet.

“I wasn’t dizzy or nothing,” Stanton said after being immediately evaluated by the Marlins training staff. “I saw a little grayness, fuzziness on the outside of my eyes but it’s subsiding now.”

Stanton believes he is fine, but he will is scheduled for more evaluation.

“Going to see doctor,” he said. “We’re going to go make sure everything is good. We’re going for a quick checkup right now.”

The slugger also doesn’t believe he will miss any practice time.

“Hopefully, not,” he said. “But I would say no.”

After being plunked, Stanton walked to the dugout, where he was observed by Mike Kozak, Miami’s assistant trainer.

A few minutes later, Stanton walked to a cart, pausing briefly to sign a few autographs. But he was driven back to the clubhouse by Kozak in a golf cart.

Fernandez, too, was shaken by the incident.

“Normally, I’ve got a lot of control and I throw a lot of strikes,” the hard-throwing right-hander said. “That was just one pitch. The ball slipped out of my hands. It went to the wrong side. I’m still worried about it.”

A year ago, Fernandez said he hit just two batters with pitches.

When Fernandez returned to the clubhouse, he immediately went to check on Stanton.

Stanton eased the mood by laughing a bit.

“When I asked him how he’s doing, he laughed. He said he is fine. I told him, I’m sorry,” Fernandez said. “You know, nobody is trying to hit anybody. Same team and everything. He just laughed, said, ‘Bro, it’s baseball. It happens.’

“When I saw it, I got nervous. I got nervous, not pitching. I know it was over 95 mph. I know it was. It’s a scary moment.”

Stanton told Fernandez: “Don’t dwell on it. We’re good. … Obviously, you didn’t mean to. No big deal.”

The incident quieted what was an enthusiastic morning where Marlins players first did some drills before playing in a simulated game.

Fernandez, a hard-throwing right-hander, had retired the first three batters he face, all on ground outs, before Stanton stepped to the plate.

Stanton had no time to react.

“It’s happened before and it will happen another time,” he said. “It hit me first, and the helmet decided to come in after the impact.”

Fernandez, 20, is the Marlins’ top prospect, and he ranks seventh on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect List.

Stanton, 23, was second in the National League in home runs last year with 37. He is scheduled to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Joe Frisaro

Kotchman taking it easy a few days

JUPITER, Fla. — Once the inflammation goes down, Casey Kotchman will have a better indication of when he will get back on the field.

Kotchman sliced his left ring finger during a pop fly drill on Monday. He received four stitches, and also scraped his left middle finger.

The Marlins open Grapefruit League play on Saturday against the Cardinals, but Kotchman isn’t sure he will be ready.

“I just got some stitches in it, and we’ll see how it feels,” Kotchman said Tuesday morning. “I think the tentative plan is to let it calm down for now, and see how it progresses.”

The Marlins signed Kotchman on Feb. 15, to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The veteran was brought in to provide depth at first base.

The injury was freakish, because it occurred when he ran into the machine stationed at home plate that was flinging pop flies to the infielders.

Kotchman raced in, made the catch, and collided with the machine.

“When I hit the pitching machine, I grabbed it,” Kotchman said. “When I grabbed it, the wheel was kind of cutting my finger. I guess, instead of hitting it over, I held onto it, and kind of picked it up, and it just kept slicing.”

One reason the Marlins signed Kotchman is because Logan Morrison’s status for Opening Day remains in question. Morrison, who had surgery to his right knee last September, on Tuesday was being examined by Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo.

Morrison will find out Tuesday if he is cleared to start running.

Also on Tuesday, Placido Polanco was back in camp working out. On Monday, the veteran infielder was at the dentist. In a week or two, he will have a root canal procedure.

Joe Frisaro

Caminero, Lara worth watching in Spring

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins’ closer of the future just might already be in camp.

Not that Steve Cishek isn’t capable of securing the spot for years to come. But if he struggles, a candidate down the line to close is Arquimedes Caminero.

Keep an eye on the 25-year-old in Spring Training. Caminero stands 6-foot-4, 245-pounds, and he is the hardest thrower on the team. Last year, the right-hander was clocked between 94-99 mph. That was coming off Tommy John surgery in the first half of the 2011 season.

Before surgery, the Dominican Republic native topped 100 mph. He mixes in a split-finger fastball and a slider.

If he shows he is ready, the Marlins would not hesitate to carry him on the Opening Day roster.

In the Minors last year, he struck out 44 in 38 1/3 innings.

Another candidate to win a bullpen spot is lefty Braulio Lara, another hard-thrower from the Dominican Republic.

Lara is a Rule 5 pickup off Tampa Bay’s roster.

Like Caminero, Lara is a hard thrower. His fastball ranges 96-98 mph. He has a chance to be a lefty specialist.

Joe Frisaro

Kotchman cuts finger during drill

JUPITER, Fla. — All out hustle caused the first minor injury in Marlins’ Spring Training.

Casey Kotchman on Monday morning sliced his left ring finger on the machine that flung pop flies to infielders. The veteran first baseman, in camp on a Minor League contract, sprinted from first base to home plate when colliding with the machine.

Kotchman received four stitches, and the team is hopeful that he will only miss a few days.

“I’ve seen some crazy stuff,” manager Mike Redmond said of freakish injuries. “I’ve seen guys come up with stiff necks getting out of chairs, things like that. It was crazy. I heard him call it, and I was like, ‘Man, no way he was getting to that ball.’ He caught it. He made a great play. He just stop. It’s unfortunate. We’re hoping that it’s not an extensive thing.”

With a longer Spring Training due to the World Baseball Classic, the Marlins are hopeful the extra time will allow Kotchman a chance to get back into playing shape.

First base is a position of concern, with Logan Morrison recovering from right knee surgery. Morrison on Tuesday is having his knee evaluated by Dr. Richard Steadman, who performed the surgery in Vail, Colo. Morrison hopes to be cleared to start running.

Maine to start: Redmond announced John Maine will get the Marlins first Grapefruit League start, which will be Saturday against the Cardinals. The right-hander will pitch two innings. Tom Koehler, Brad Hand, Steve Cishek, Mike Dunn, Chad Qualls, Dan Jennings and Michael Wuertz also are expected to pitch.

Joe Frisaro

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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