March 2014

Will Marlins score enough runs?

JUPITER, Fla. — In so many ways it’s been an encouraging and promising Spring Training for the Marlins. Manager Mike Redmond’s club has bonded together, clutching to the spirit that they can prove people wrong. The pitching, as advertised, delivered. Perhaps never before in franchise history have there been this many power arms ranging from the big leagues down to at least the Double-A level.

When the club packs up and exits Jupiter after Thursday’s game against the Cardinals, they will be as prepared as they can be for Opening Day on Monday night against the Rockies at Marlins Park.

The way they pitched and played are reasons for optimism that it’s a matter of time before they become a contender. The club is being built for the long haul, so there are no grand predictions about winning the division or going to the postseason. If all falls right, however, who knows? Maybe they can surprise, and with the second Wild Card, things could get interesting.

Ultimately, how successful the season will be is linked to how many runs they can score. A year ago, the Marlins ranked last in the Majors in runs scored, and the ended up with a 62-100 record, despite setting a staff ERA record (3.71).

All signs point to the fact the pitching will again be strong. The Marlins headed into Thursday with a Spring Training ERA of 3.52, fifth best in the Majors. They’ve allowed 112 runs, which is the 23rd fewest. All the pitching has to do is stay the course.

Offense?

They’ve made strides. They’ve scored 127 runs, which is 20th most this spring. So they’ve jumped 10 spots from last regular season. They’re 21st this spring in batting average (.259) and are tied for 22rd in on-base percentage (.318).

All encouraging signs.

The reality remains, the offense is a work in progress. By Monday the final 25-man roster will be set. In no way, will the offense be a finished product. If they stay to the plan of each player doing his part, they can be gritty, scrappy and opportunistic. The point is they need to make steady steps. Even if they have a big offensive night on Monday, don’t read too much into things. It’s just one game.

From top to bottom in the order, they will need to be a focus.

There has been so many questions about who will protect Giancarlo Stanton? You can also ask, will Stanton become the superstar many envision.

Stanton, who has enjoyed a strong Spring Training, still tends to be hot and cold. Obviously, all players go through good and bad streaks. It’s not that with Stanton. It’s showing the consistent plate appearances, not flash it two games and then let it slip away for a couple of days.

Approach has been one of the most used words in camp. It’s not always executed.

Christian Yelich, as promising as he can be, also is entering his first full season in the big leagues. He has the makings of a .300 hitters, but he is still finding his step.

Garrett Jones will be asked to protect Stanton as the cleanup hitter. Jones has to show he can be productive enough against lefties to avoid being platooned.

Rafael Furcal has dealt with a strained left hamstring. He has to show he can stay healthy.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the most significant new addition. He’s still getting familiarized with the pitching staff, and at the plate, he will be adjusting to the National League, a new home park and new teammates.

Casey McGehee is being looked at to upgrade power at third base. Early signs are he will be fine, but he too is back in the National League after spending last year in Japan.

Jeff Baker promises to be a steady performer, offering professional at-bats no matter where he plays.

Adeiny Hechavarria has had a better approach and he’s enjoyed a productive Spring Training. But he has to stay consistent with his swing. We still don’t know what the 24-year-old is capable of at the plate. We know he has a ways to go.

Marcell Ozuna missed substantial time last year due to left thumb surgery. He’s healthy and provides energy and some power. But he also can lack discipline at the plate, and swing wildly. Ozuna will be looked at to stay steady and make strides from month to month. He tends to be all or nothing, and the team has too much of that.

Jake Marisnick has shortened his swing, and posted very good Grapefruit League numbers. But he is an unfinished product, who still must work on his swing. For Marisnick, it’s about getting as many at-bats as possible, and allowing his streamlined mechanics to become second nature. If he can become a polished offensive player, he has game-changing speed and athleticism to become a major impact player. The question is can he reach that potential?

Marisnick, in a number of ways, symbolizes much of the 2014 Marlins’ offensively. There is talent to work with. How quickly will it come together?

Joe Frisaro

Furcal to play field in Minors game

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s still a wait-and-see if Rafael Furcal will be ready for Opening Day.

The Marlins will have a better indication after Furcal plays five innings in a Minor League game on a back field at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter on Wednesday afternoon.

Furcal has been resting a strained left hamstring since March 15. The past two days he had been used as a designated hitter in Minor League games.

“We’ll continue to see where he’s at,” manager Mike Redmond said. “This is the first time he will be playing defense. In his last two games, he’s hit. We’ll see how it goes today, and go from there.”

It’s still unclear if Furcal will play in a Grapefruit League. game. If he does, that could be a sign the veteran infielder anticipates being ready for the season opener on Monday.

If the Marlins keep Furcal out of a Grapefruit League game, they can place him on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 21. If that occurs, he would be eligible to return as early as April 5, meaning he would miss just five games.

Jeff Baker could be a fallback second base option if Furcal has a brief DL stint.

Rotation update: Redmond said the rotation could be announced as early as after Thursday afternoon’s game against the Cardinals. Only Jose Fernandez starting on Opening Day has formally been announced. The rest of the rotation is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner and Tom Koehler. Brad Hand is in the mix for the fifth spot, and he will start on Thursday.

Hechavarria: Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is still nursing a tight groin. The team is hopeful he will be fine for Opening Day.

Center field: Marcell Ozuna certainly is playing his way back into the starting job in center field. Ozuna has shown improvements over the past week to 10 days, and appears to be the frontrunner. Jake Marisnick has had a terrific Spring Training, and he’s working on refining his swing. It is appearing likely that Marisnick will start off at Triple-A New Orleans.

Joe Frisaro

Eovaldi makes final spring start

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Marlins arrived to 48 degree weather at Champion Stadium in preparation to face the Braves.

Nathan Eovaldi will make his final Grapefruit League start, and the right-hander is expected to build up to 90-plus pitches. The game also will be the first in weeks for veteran Greg Dobbs, who is starting at first base.

Derek Dietrich, who has been playing second base most of Spring Training, is getting the nod at third base. Jeff Baker is starting at second.

Lineup at Braves

1) Yelich LF
2) Johnson RF
3) Ozuna CF
4) Dietrich 3B
5) Baker 2B
6) Dobbs 1B
7) Lucas SS
8) Mathis C
9) Eovaldi P

Injuries

Adeiny Hechavarria (groin) is getting a couple of days rest. The shortstop is expected to be ready for Opening Day.

Rafael Furcal (left hamstring) remains in Jupiter.

Roster implications

With Opening Day less than a week away, every Grapefruit League lineup gives a small clue into how the final 25-man roster is shaping up. Marcell Ozuna, who has had his struggles in Spring Training, has been showing improvement at the plate in recent games. He delivered the game-winning, RBI double against the Cardinals on Tuesday.

Ozuna appears to be lined up to win the center field job.

As for Furcal, it’s worth nothing that Jeff Baker, not Derek Dietrich, was playing second. The decision raises speculation that Baker could get the early nod at second base if Furcal opens the season on the disabled list. Nothing is official yet at either center field or second base. But Wednesday’s lineup may be a sign of what the club is thinking for Monday’s season opener against the Rockies at Marlins Park.

Joe Frisaro

Marino throwing out first pitch

JUPITER, Fla. — Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino threw for 61,361 yards in his legendary career. On Monday, the South Florida sports icon will toss out the ceremonial first pitch for the Marlins on Opening Day.

Dan Marino will be throwing out the first pitch on Marlins Opening Day.

Dan Marino will be throwing out the first pitch on Marlins Opening Day.

Before Jose Fernandez takes the mound at Marlins Park to face the Rockies at 7:05 p.m. ET, Marino will take part in the pregame ceremonies.

“We are honored to welcome back Dan Marino to the site where he began his hall-of-fame professional career,” Marlins president David Samson said. “There is no better way to start a season at Marlins Park than with a pass from this South Florida sports icon.”

Marino, 52, played 17 season for the Miami Dolphins, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.

In his childhood, he also was an accomplished baseball player. So much so that he was the fourth round pick of the Kansas City Royals in 1979. Marino opted to play his college football at the University of Pittsburgh.

Along with Marino, the opening day presentation will feature KC and the Sunshine Band will perform the national anthem.

Before the game, the Marlins also will pay tribute to Henderson Alvarez, who no-hit the Tigers in the 2013 season final

Post game, there will be a fireworks display.

Joe Frisaro

Caminero victim of options, sent down

JUPITER, Fla. — You can file it in the “life isn’t fair” category, but on Tuesday morning, Arquimedes Caminero was among the cuts made by the Marlins.

The team announced Caminero and Carter Capps were optioned to Triple-A New Orleans. Chaz Roe was reassigned to Minor League camp.

Ty Wigginton, the veteran infielder in camp as a non-roster invitee, was released.

As four players were leaving camp, the Marlins also informed outfielder Reed Johnson that he has made the club. Johnson, a non-roster invitee, had a stipulation in his contract that he needed to know his status by noon on Tuesday. The 37-year-old adds experience as a spot starter, backup and pinch-hitter.

Based on performance, sending Caminero to Triple-A New Orleans is surprising. In nine innings, the hard-throwing right-hander gave up two runs with nine strikeouts and one walk.

Caminero also is a hard-thrower, with a nasty slider.

So why send him down? The business of the game. More specifically, he has an option year left.

Had Caminero remained with the big league club, his role would have been in the sixth or seventh innings. Now, with New Orleans, he will be either closing or in a setup role.

The moves made on Tuesday clear the way for Henry Rodgriguez and perhaps Kevin Slowey to make the club. Both are non-roster invitees.

Capps was acquired from the Mariners for Logan Morrison last December. Another hard-throwing right-hander, Capps has been working on tweaking his delivery. Now, he gets to work on his mechanics at New Orleans.

The Caminero move is a reminder that not all moves are based on putting together the “best 25″ based on Spring Training performance. If it was, it would have been hard to overlook Caminero’s eye-opening 0.44 WHIP.

Rodriguez is an extremely hard thrower, who has reached 101 mph already this spring. But he has a history of being wild. His command has improved in Spring Training, but he’s also been hit around. On Sunday, for instance, he allowed a game-tying, three-run homer against the Tigers. Miami went on to win the game.

Slowey also is a veteran with a track record, who would be a right-handed multi-innings reliever. Brad Hand is expected to make the club as a lefty long reliever.

The back end of the bullpen shapes up with Steve Cishek closing. A.J. Ramos and Carlos Marmol are right-handed late-inning options, joining lefty Mike Dunn.

Joe Frisaro

Hechavarria resting mild groin strain

JUPITER, Fla. — As a precaution, Adeiny Hechavarria was replaced in the fifth inning on Monday due to a mild groin strain.

The Marlins shortstop has felt a little discomfort for a few days, and he aggravated the groin while being sacrifice bunted to second base in the third inning of Miami’s 4-1 loss to the Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium.

“Hech has a little bit of a tight groin, so we got him out of there,” manager Mike Redmond said. “He should be fine. We’ll give a day or two to make sure everything is alright.”

Hechavarria is winding down an impressive Spring Training, where he is batting .319 in 47 at-bats. He singled in the third inning, and slid awkwardly into second base, advancing on Tom Koehler’s sacrifice bunt.

“He felt it a little bit when we bunted him over,” Redmond said.

The likely return date is Thursday, when the Marlins face the Cardinals in Jupiter. On Wednesday the club is in Lake Buena Vista to take on the Braves. It’s unlikely Hechavarria would make the long bus ride.

Donovan Solano and Ed Lucas are the candidates to play shortstop.

Joe Frisaro

Furcal to test leg in Minors game

JUPITER, Fla. — Step one in judging if Rafael Furcal will be ready for Opening Day starts Monday morning.

The veteran second baseman is being used as the designated hitter in a Minor League game at the Roger Dean Stadium complex.

Manager Mike Redmond said the team is looking to see how Furcal moves around before determining if he will be ready for the March 31 opener against the Rockies at Marlins Park.

Opening Day is a week away, and the second base situation is unclear.

There is a quiet optimism that Furcal will be in the lineup for Game One.

Also on Monday, Derek Dietrich will play the field in a Minors game. The 24-year-old broke his nose last Thursday, and he is playing with a protective mask, which he will only wear in the field.

Greg Dobbs (left quad) is playing first base in the Minors game.

Marcell Ozuna (left leg cramp) is feeling better, and is doing some baseball activities on Monday. Chances are Ozuna will be in action on Tuesday.

Giancarlo Stanton is in the starting lineup on Monday, a day after he was pegged on the meaty part of his right forearm by a Joe Nathan fastball against the Tigers in Lakeland. Stanton is fine.

Rotation

Jose Fernandez (Tuesday), Nathan Eovaldi (Wednesday), Brad Hand (Thursday), Jacob Turner (Friday) and Tom Koehler (Saturday).

Hand will start against the Cardinals with Miami as the visiting team in Jupiter. The same day, in Jupiter, Henderson Alvarez will pitch in a Minor League game.

LINEUP vs. Nationals

1) Marisnick LF
2) Yelich CF
3) Stanton RF
4) Jones 1B
5) Saltalamacchia C
6) Bakers 2B
7) McGehee 3B
8) Hechavarria SS
9) Koehler P

Roster move

Catcher Kyle Skipworth was reassigned to Minor League camp.

Joe Frisaro

Fifth starter competition remains heated battle

JUPITER, Fla. — Not much clarity was offered to the Marlins’ fifth starter competition on Saturday afternoon.

Brad Hand, so effective all Spring Training, had his roughest outing. The Mets tagged the left-hander for five runs in four innings, and he gave up home runs to Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores. He also walked three, with two scoring on homers.

While the bottom line was disappointing for Hand, the pure stuff remains promising. Because when he throws strikes, he has potentially dominating stuff.

So, even though the performance wasn’t what Hand was looking for, the outcome didn’t diminish what the Marlins think of the 23-year-old. He still is expected to make the Opening Day roster, but in what capacity? He will either be the fifth starter, or make it as a long reliever.

What Saturday did was remind what Hand is capable of, positively and negatively. The minus is the mechanics were off, causing him to create little to no deception. Sometimes he leans back too much, and falls off to the side of the mound, causing him to misfire. The upside is the 91-94 mph he was regularly throwing. If he can repeat his delivery, the upside is tremendous, and he would give the rotation a lefty alternative.

The Marlins also are testing their players now by allowing the competition to play out.

“It’s totally different now, the last seven or eight days left in the [spring] season,” manager Mike Redmond said. “Teams are throwing their A-lineups out there. So you really get a feel for where guys are at. Now, you’ve got your best competition. It’s good to see how guys match up now against true big league hitters. That’s why sometimes you can evaluate the best the last eight or nine days of Spring Training.”

The Marlins are evaluating whether to go with Hand, Tom Koehler or Kevin Slowey for the fifth spot.

Hand is out of options, and he either makes the club or risks being traded, which is unlikely.

Koehler has been so promising, seemingly getting better every start. It’s not just Spring Training. The right-hander’s success dates back to last year.

Koehler does have options. He also can pitch in relief, and probably is better suited in that role than Hand. However, it is hard not to reward what Koehler has done this spring. At this point, Koehler remains the frontrunner to start.

The right-hander also is starting on Monday against the Nationals in Jupiter. If he keeps up his impressive showings, he could cement the fifth spot by how he performs against the team many believe will win the National League East.

Slowey, a non-roster invitee, has an uphill climb.

Working in his favor though is his big league track record.

Joe Frisaro

Cut-down day quickly approaching

JUPITER, Fla. — In an ideal situation, any team would like to have its 25-man roster locked down with at least a couple of games remaining in Spring Training.

The Marlins are no different. But the reality is, the roster right now remains fluid, but in the next few days, more cuts are expected. The team is at 39 with 14 more moves upcoming.

“I wouldn’t say a target date, yet,” manager Mike Redmond said. “We started the discussions over the last few days. I think any manager would probably say you want to have your guys as soon as you can to get playing together.”

There are a number of spots still up for grabs, and input is coming from the manager, the coaching staff, along with the front office.

“We talked about having a lot of tough decisions, a lot of competition,” Redmond said. “We’ve definitely had that. The tough decisions, they’re coming. We all talked about that being a good thing for us.”

Lineup vs Mets

1) Yelich CF
2) Hechavarria SS
3) Stanton RF
4) Jones 1B
5) Saltalamacchia C
6) McGehee 3B
7) Bogusevic LF
8) Nola 2B
9) Hand

Lineup at Nationals

1) Marisnick LF
2) Solano 2B
3) Baker 1B
4) Ozuna CF
5) Johnson RF
6) Wigginton 3B
7) Mathis C
8) Diaz SS
9) Alvarez P

Injuries

Rafael Furcal (left hamstring) will test his leg by running the bases.

Derek Dietrich (broken nose) has been fitted for a clear, protective mask that he will wear in the field. Dietrich says he is feeling much better. There is a good chance he could be in the lineup on Monday.

Greg Dobbs (left quad) is getting at-bats in a Minor League game on Sunday.

Ed Lucas (left hamstring) is getting a day to rest on Saturday. He is expected to start at first base on Sunday at Lakeland against the Tigers.

Salty honored

Jarrod Saltalamacchia on Sunday night will be honored as the 2013 Professional Athlete of the Year for Palm Beach County by the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame. The catcher is expected to be in attendance.

Joe Frisaro

Yelich recognizes World Down Syndrome Day

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Christian Yelich made a fashion statement and supported a good cause during batting practice on Friday at Osceola County Stadium.

Christian Yelich displays some silly socks.

Christian Yelich displays some silly socks.

In honor of Word Down Syndrome Day #WDSD, Yelich wore some colorful socks.

To raise public awareness, Yelich was among the Marlins to participate in “Wear Crazy Socks” on Friday.

MLB has approved players wearing the multi-patterned “crazy” socks.

Donovan Solano also wore the crazy socks, but they were covered by his pants.

Yelich took part in batting practice going with the high socks look.

The Marlins are facing the Astros on Friday.

Nathan Eovaldi got the start for Miami. Scott Feldman got the nod for Houston.

LINEUP

1) Yelich CF
2) Marisnick LF
3) Jones 1B
4) Saltalamacchia C
5) Baker 3B
6) Solano SS
7) Bogusevic RF
8) Nola 2B
9) Eovaldi P

Injuries

Derek Dietrich (broken nose) is being fitted for a protective mask that he is expected to wear in the field when he is ready to return to action. He won’t wear the mask while he bats.

Ed Lucas (left hamstring) will get Saturday off, and the plan is to start him at first base on Sunday against the Tigers at Lakeland.

Rafael Furcal (left hamstring) continues to do limited baseball activities. In the next few days he is expected to increase his activities.

Greg Dobbs (left quad) is getting close to returning. The Marlins are confident he will be ready for Opening Day.

Joe Frisaro

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