April 2014

Yelich riding 11-game hitting streak

MIAMI — At every level Christian Yelich has hit. So the fact he is riding an 11-game hitting streak isn’t that surprising.

The 22-year-old Marlins outfielder has been highly touted since he was Miami’s first-round pick in 2010. He gained some big league seasoning in 2013, and now in his sophomore season, he is finding his stride.

Speaking to a National League scout the other day, he said he believes within five years Yelich and Washington’s Anthony Rendon will compete for a batting title. Who knows, it may come quicker than that.

It is interesting to compare the two.

Consider this, entering Friday night, Yelich and Rendon are each batting .317.

Yelich, thus far, has been more of a table setter. The Marlins outfielder has a .388 on-base percentage, plus two doubles, a triple, 11 runs scored and five RBIs.

Rendon, 23, has shown a little more power, with two homers, 12 RBIs, and the Nationals infielder has 10 runs scored.

Both are certainly rising talents in the National League East.

Also to watch for on Friday night, and over the rest of the homestand.

Giancarlo Stanton has 122 career home runs, which ties him with Gary Sheffield on the Marlins’ all-time list. Stanton’s next homer moves him into sole possession of sixth place.

All-time HR leaders

1) Dan Uggla 154
2) Hanley Ramirez 148
3) Mike Lowell 143
4) Miguel Cabrera 138
5) Derrek Lee 129
6) Giancarlo Stanton/Gary Sheffield 122

Joe Frisaro

Slowey to rotation, Hand to bullpen

MIAMI — The Marlins are making a rotation change without making a roster move.

Kevin Slowey will start on Sunday against the Mariners at Marlins Park, and Brad Hand will return to the bullpen.

Hand had made two starts in place of Jacob Turner, who is on the DL with a right shoulder sprain.

Chances are, Slowey will be making just one start. But that could change.

The Marlins rotation next week at Atlanta will be: Tom Koehler (Monday), Jose Fernandez (Tuesday) and Nathan Eovaldi (Wednesday).

Because of off days, Miami is considering going with a four-man rotation, with the four staying remaining on a five-day cycle. They wouldn’t need a fifth starter until early May, either over the weekend against the Dodgers or the Mets.

Turner, meanwhile, threw off flat ground again on Wednesday. and he is expected to throw off the mound on Friday. Before Turner is cleared to come off the DL, he will make at least one rehab assignment start.

Rafael Furcal (left hamstring strain) continues his rehab assignment at Class A Jupiter. He will be given Thursday off, play Friday and Saturday and be off again on Sunday. There is a chance he will go to Double-A Jacksonville next week.

Joe Frisaro

Salty, Koehler generate spark in win

MIAMI — Not that he didn’t have it already, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s stock in the clubhouse really skyrocketed on Tuesday night.

By simply standing up for his pitcher and getting in Ian Desmond’s face was a unifying moment for a team still bonding together.

The incident came in the fourth inning of the Marlins’ 11-2 win over the Nationals.

Desmond took exception to an inside pitch by Tom Koehler. Already in the inning, Koehler brushed back Jayson Werth, who drew a walk.

Benches cleared and there were heated exchanges, but the incident calmed rather quickly.

What the Marlins are taking from it, is they will pull together in tough times. Saltalamacchia took the kind of leadership the organization banked on when they signed him as a free agent.

“Salty had Tommy’s back out there,” outfielder Christian Yelich said. “I guess Ian was unhappy with whatever had taken place. Inside fastball. Didn’t like it. He had something to say. I don’t know exactly what he said or what Salty said. I think it was a little overblown. I don’t think the benches really needed to clear right there.”

Yelich added that during a rough stretch, the team is staying together.

“That’s just showing that we’ve got each other’s backs in here,” Yelich said. “That’s what we kind of take from it. Even though we got a little beaten up this past week, we are still going to stick together, and we’re in this for the long haul.”

Assessing the game, Giancarlo Stanton provided the big boost with his three-run homer in the first inning, and his five RBIs on the night.

But credit Koehler and Saltalamacchia for igniting a bit of much needed fire for a team desperate for a spark.

“You always want your catcher to have your back,” Koehler said. “We’re still building relationships here. For him to step up like that and tell them, ‘Listen, don’t talk to my pitcher that way,’ it definitely means a lot. It’s something that hopefully can build a little momentum and bring the team together.”

In the heat of the moment, things happen. All sides did what they had to.

Koehler is trying to pitch his game, and be aggressive, and use all sides of the plate. Desmond is understandably upset at having fastballs near his head. And Saltalamacchia had the perfect tone and showed his teammates he is there for them.

The reality, from the Marlins’ standpoint, is their pitching wasn’t doing enough during the eight game losing streak. The Nationals had taken it to Miami at Washington last week and on Monday night in the series opener. Their hitters were way too comfortable in the box.

Koehler sent a message that he would pitch inside.

“We were trying to pitch our game,” Saltalamacchia said. “Koehler was on tonight. He was throwing real well. We’ve got to mix our pitches. Last few nights we were missing over the middle of the plate. [Tuesday], we had to really concentrate on getting on both sides of the plate.

“I just said, ‘Hey, man, we weren’t trying to hit you, relax.’ “

Saltalamacchia notes the Marlins aren’t looking to become some buzz teams inside club. They need to make pitches to all sides of the plate.

“I’m not going to say we need to establish in,” the catcher said. “I think we need to make our pitches. We’ve made some bad pitches over the last few games where we left pitches over the middle of the plate. We were trying to go away, leaving it over the middle. Try to go in, leaving it over the middle. I’m not going to say we’re going to go in on everybody, but we’ve got to hit both sides of the plate, and we’ve got to continue to pitch.”

Observations:

* It’s clear that the Marlins are using spacious Marlins Park to their advantage. Even though it was a blowout win on Tuesday, several deep fly balls by the Nationals were caught. Last week, on the road, a couple of the same shots could have been for extra bases or home runs.

For the pitchers, it’s going to be important to execute better, especially on the road. Because it is clear teams are being allowed to hit the ball as far as they can to center, because it often will be a loud out.

* Nothing is official, but it appears the Marlins will start Kevin Slowey on Sunday against the Mariners, and Brad Hand will pitch out of the bullpen. It doesn’t look like the team will make a roster move to add a starter. But it appears clear Hand will go back to the ‘pen after making two rough starts.

* Jacob Turner (right shoulder sprain) will throw off flat ground again Wednesday. Turner throw pain-free from 60 feet yesterday. He could throw off the mound as early as this weekend. Turner will make at least one rehab assignment start before he is reinstated.

* With a couple of days off in the upcoming week, the Marlins could go with four starters until their early May series against the Mets in Miami. Turner could be ready by then.

* The Andrew Heaney watch is on. The lefty was impressive yet again on Tuesday night in a win for Double-A Jacksonville. Heaney is pretty close to being ready, but don’t look for him to join the rotation until at least early June. They won’t rush him, saving his service time clock while also getting him more polished. The objective is to make sure he is fully ready and not be a candidate to get sent down.

* Tom Koehler has continued in three starts what he started in Spring Training. Koehler has impressed the organization and scouts from other clubs for a while. They’ve noted he is vastly underrated. Technically, Koehler is Miami’s No. 5 starter. The reality of how he is throwing, he pretty much is their No. 3.

* Carter Capps has been doing exactly what the Marlins wanted when they started him off at Triple-A New Orleans. The hard-throwing right-hander has been refining his delivery. Rather than rush him after a few good Triple-A outings, they want him to continue what he is doing. But if a reliever option is needed, Capps appears next in line to be brought up.

Joe Frisaro

Pitching woes throughout losing streak

MIAMI — When you are built around pitching, and it let’s down, this what happens.

This is the anatomy of an eight-game losing streak.

The Marlins have an upgraded offense, but not to the point of out-slugging teams. The foundation is still a promising young collection of arms. Both in the rotation and the bullpen. Few teams feature as many pitchers who throw 95-plus mph.

Right now, it doesn’t matter how hard the Marlins are throwing, the opposition is not missing anything.

Over the eight games, Miami’s overall ERA is 6.12, allowing 84 hits (including 10 home runs). Opponents are hitting at a blistering .304 clip. The bright spot, if there is one, is the pitchers have racked up 67 strikeouts over those 67 2/3 innings.

As starters, it hasn’t been very pretty. They are 0-5 with a 5.88 ERA. They’ve been knocked around, reflected by the opponents .326 batting average against them in the losing stretch. The starters have surrendered five home runs and 56 hits in 41 1/3 innings.

Because the starters haven’t gone deep very often, the bullpen has been overused. They are 0-3 with a 6.49 ERA, allowing 28 hits in 26 1/3 innings. The opposition is batting .269 against them.

At issue isn’t necessarily the raw stuff of each pitcher. Pitch selection has been a problem, dating back to Alexi Amarista belting a pinch-hit, three-run homer off Nathan Eovaldi on April 6, which started the losing streak.

The homer came with two out and two on in the seventh inning. Eovaldi was still throwing 97 mph in the inning, but with the count full, he threw a slider, and Amarista turned on it, sending it into the seats in right field, giving the Padres the lead for good.

On the road trip, Dan Jennings allowed a two-out, walk-off homer to Jimmy Rollins on a slider, in a loss on Saturday at Philadelphia. And on Sunday, in the series finale, Mike Dunn’s slider was pulled for a game-winning homer by Chase Utley in the eighth inning.

Three times during the six-game road trip the Marlins gave up a homer in the eighth, with two of them being grand slams at Washington. And Rollins’ homer off Jennings came in the 10th inning.

Joe Frisaro

Furcal starting up rehab assignment

MIAMI — As the Marlins take on the Nationals at Marlins Park on Monday night, Rafael Furcal will begin his rehab assignment at Class A Jupiter.

Furcal (left hamstring) is expected to play five innings at Jupiter, and be back in action on Tuesday.

“The plan is for him to hopefully play every day,” manager Mike Redmond said. “Hopefully, he continues to feel good. He will be there all week.”

There is a chance next week that Furcal will play for Double-A Jacksonville. In all, the team anticipates him using all 21 days of his assignment. If that is the case, the earliest he would join the team is May 6 against the Mets at Marlins Park.

“The plan for him is to use all 21 days,” Redmond said.

Marcell Ozuna fouled a ball off the top of his left foot on Sunday at Philadelphia, but he stayed in the game. On the plane ride back to Miami, however, he was on crutches.

Ozuna got a day off on Monday, but he is feeling better, and he took part in pregame activities. He could be a pinch-hit option.

“He fouled that ball off his foot. He ended up being on crutches after the game,” Redmond said. “He will get a day off, and we’ll see if he is available to pinch-hit. He is out there, and he’s going to go through baseball activities, and we’ll see how he feels and if he is available for the game tonight. I anticipate him to be ok for a pinch-hit, but we’ll see.”

Ed Lucas (broken left hand) was cleared to do baseball activities on Monday.

“We’ll just kind of monitor him on how that hand is feeling,” Redmond said. “We’ll see how much activity he can do day-to-day.”

Jacob Turner (right shoulder) is going to start playing catch on Tuesday.

“He’s feeling much better than he has,” Redmond said.

Joe Frisaro

Rough road trip started with Turner injury

MIAMI — A week ago, the Marlins wrapped up a successful first homestand, and carried a 5-2 record into their first road trip.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly, until a rough week that started at Washington and wrapped up in Philadelphia. What happened was they were swept in two straight seasons, lost six straight, and seven overall.

The week turned for the worse when Jacob Turner was scratched from his start, which was to be last Wednesday, because of a right shoulder strain. Brad Hand went from long relief into the rotation, and nothing has seemed to work since.

“Everything headed south when we lost Turner,” manager Mike Redmond said. “That threw the bullpen into a scramble mode, where we had to take Hand out of there, and that kind of started it. But, hey, it’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of games left to play.”

All the Marlins can do now is dust off, and start playing their game better, beginning on Monday night. It’s another tough task because they draw the Nationals, who head into Miami reeling from being swept at Atlanta.

Pitching is expected to be the strength of the club, but the rotation and bullpen have been struggling.

“We kind of got away from our identity of pitching,” reliever Mike Dunn said. “We didn’t execute pitches this whole road trip. We’ve got to get back to just focusing on the pitch and just executing one pitch at a time.”

The offense, too, has put up some runs, but isn’t necessarily driving in those add-on runs.

“We’re putting a lot of pressure on our pitchers when we’re in tie games to be perfect,” Redmond said.

As quickly as things headed south last week, the Marlins know their fortunes can turn with a few wins at Marlins Park.

“We can go out and have a great week next week, and we can be laughing about this [road trip],” Redmond said.

* Derek Dietrich, who missed two straight games at Philadelphia because of back spasms, is in the starting lineup on Monday. Jeff Baker got the start at second base the previous two games.

* Marcell Ozuna, who took a foul ball off his left leg on Sunday, is not in the lineup for the opener with the Nationals.

Lineup

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

Joe Frisaro

Too early to judge either way?

PHILADELPHIA — Just like you shouldn’t read too much into the Marlins’ 5-2 homestand, you shouldn’t rush to judgment now that the team has dropped all five on their road trip and six overall.

It’s natural, though, to react in the moment. What we’re seeing from the two-city swing through Washington and Philadelphia is the Marlins have some issues that need to be addressed.

Perhaps it was just really good advanced scouting, but after the Marlins pretty much had their way at home against the Rockies and Padres, they are struggling to make the adjustments on the road.

The way the Marlins are built, they need their starting pitchers to perform. They certainly are capable, especially their top two. But the Phillies, using an aggressive approach, got to Jose Fernandez and Nathan Eovaldi early on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively.

Fernandez and Eovaldi are two of the hardest throwers in the game. They must establish fastball command from the start. They didn’t, and the Phillies were sitting dead red, cheating and jumping on fastballs.

For example, Domonic Brown turned on a 99 mph fastball from Fernandez for an RBI single in the first inning on Friday.

Eovaldi, like Fernandez, also gave up two runs in the first inning. Eovaldi was again throwing hard. His final pitch of the night on Saturday was 98 mph, and it came with two outs in the seventh inning. Still, it wasn’t located, and Carlos Ruiz delivered a single.

Miami’s hitters, obviously, need to do a better job of situational hitting. And the base running needs to polish up. Adeiny Hechavarria, thinking there were two outs, sprinted on contact from second on Christian Yelich’s liner to center. Trouble was, it was one out, and the ball was caught, making Hechavarria an easy out at second to complete the double play.

But it all comes down to starting pitching.

Eovaldi did make a nice recovery after issuing four early runs. He did go deeper into the game, but the early deficit was tough to overcome.

Observations:

* Giancarlo Stanton literally lifted the team by himself, delivering two clutch and important home runs that erased being down 4-1.

The middle of the order has to produce, and it seems the Marlins win consistently when Stanton gets going.

* Key right now is Garrett Jones. He’s playing solid defense, but at the plate is struggling. His 20 strikeouts are the most in the Majors. Stanton is getting on base in front of him, so he is getting chances and pitches to hit.
Jones and Casey McGehee usually hit either fourth or fifth, depending on who is starting. Jarrod Saltalamacchia could become a cleanup option.

* Marcell Ozuna batting second is an interesting and probably a good move. While not always the most disciplined hitter, Ozuna has power, and if Ozuna can work counts a little better, he could see more fastballs having Stanton behind him.

* Play of the night on Friday wasn’t Jimmy Rollins’ walk-off. Well, technically, it was. But the instant replay overturn was crucial because it took two runs off the board for Miami. It was a bang/bang, yet strange play because Ozuna would have clearly been safe if he had touched the front of second base. But, his cleat got more of the back of the bag. Ozuna still feels he beat the throw and should have been safe. However, there was not clear video evidence of that, and the out was called.

* According to ESPN’s Stats & Info, Stanton’s first home run on Saturday night was estimated at 469 feet. Stanton has two of the three longest homers of the season. His 484 foot shot at Marlins Park is the longest, and Atlanta’s Justin Upton’s 477 foot drive is second, followed by Stanton’s blast on Saturday.

* Derek Dietrich is dealing with a back spasm, which kept him out of the lineup on Saturday and Sunday. The second baseman is feeling better on Sunday, and he hopes to be ready for Monday. The team is still playing it safe, but it appears he should be ready soon.

* Hitting with runners in scoring position has been an issue during the road trip. On the season, the Marlins top hitters with runners in scoring position are McGehee, who is hitting .455 (5-for-11), Stanton .412 (7-for-17) and Yelich .375 (6-for-16).

* Not to be overlooked, but Yelich made a terrific running, sliding, backhanded catch in foul territory on Ryan Howard’s towering fly.

Joe Frisaro

Missed chances costly in Friday’s loss

PHILADELPHIA — The fact Jose Fernandez on Friday night captured the headlines and focuses on the Marlins’ 6-3 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Because Fernandez has become such a sensation, his performance typically garners much of the attention.

There is no denying that it wasn’t vintage Jose Fernandez. The 21-year-old gave up six runs, was hit hard, allowing eight hits and he walked four in four-plus innings. No escaping those numbers.

Still, the reason the Marlins’ losing streak stretched to five games is more than simply an off night from one of the youngest starters in the game.

Missed chances also loomed large.

The final may have been 6-3, but the game had the makings of a shoot out. It could have easily ended up 7-6 or something closer to the 10-7 loss the Marlins suffered at Washington on Wednesday night.

The Marlins had numerous chances to get to Phillies right-hander A.J. Burnett, who exited the game after 4 1/3 innings due to tightness in his groin.

When Burnett walked off the mound, he left the bases loaded with one out. Miami was unable to score, which at the time would have tied the game at 3.

Burnett came up big when he had to, but he was in plenty of trouble. He allowed a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich in the second inning. He also scattered five hits and walked six.

With that many men on base, Miami wasn’t at a loss for scoring chances. But they left 10 on base, and went hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Worth noting: During the four game road trip, not only are the Marlins winless, their pitchers have combined for a 7.03 ERA. Opposing hitters have a .298 batting average against Miami pitching. In all, the Marlins pitchers have thrown 32 innings on the road trip, and they have allowed 28 runs, with 25 earned. They’ve logged 32 strikeouts and walked 18.

Joe Frisaro

Getting back to basics after sweep

PHILADELPHIA — Swept away at Washington, the Marlins are focused now getting back to their brand of baseball at Philadelphia.

Miami has the right guy on the mound in its quest to turn things around.

Jose Fernandez gets the start on Friday night against the Phillies, who are going with A.J. Burnett.

Fernandez’s first MLB win came last year at Citizens Bank Park.

Miami maintains its a different team this year. It is, despite the poor showing at Nationals Park.

But this is the first wave of adversity the club has experienced. The Marlins, after all, enjoyed a strong Spring Training, where the players bonded and bought into the system.

Then, in their first homestand, the Marlins went 5-2 and showed signs of promise. But they’ve now dropped four straight, and are 5-5.

If they can take two of three at Philly, they’d come home on Monday above .500 and not in bad shape.

Reliever Mike Dunn says there is no reason for the club to get too down after a brief slump.

“We’ve got to get back to our baseball, errorless baseball,” Dunn said. “Do what we can do, and not anything more. We really just have to stay focused. We had a good spring together as a team, and a good start. We know the guy behind us has our back.

“It’s just grinding it out. There is a lot of baseball to be played. You can’t let it loom on you. You can’t let a cloud hang over you. You’ve got to let it go.”

The Marlins struggled on the road a year ago, and again they are tested. The Nationals also were red hot in the series, coming up with clutch hits, and playing with immense confidence.

“Really, we have to put this series behind us and move on,” Dunn said. “We’re going to play these guys 16 more times. Yeah, you want to get some wins on them, but it’s still early. It’s not September. There is no reason to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we lost three in a row!’ Put it behind us, we’ve got a new series starting [Friday].”

Observations:

* Manager Mike Redmond had to make a tough call on Thursday afternoon — pitch closer Steve Cishek in the eighth inning with his team down a run, or hold him for a possible save situation in the ninth?

Cishek, who hasn’t pitched in a week, could have entered with Miami down 2-1, and hoped to keep the score there. If the Marlins did rally to tie it or take the lead in the ninth, then they could have figured out another closer option.

Redmond said he didn’t want to use Cishek for two innings. So rather than pitch his closer, Arquimedes Caminero worked the eighth. Caminero was effective the night before in one-plus innings. But the Nationals posted five runs off him, including Ian Desmond’s grand slam.

The game turned from 2-1 to a blowout.

* Jose Fernandez threw 108 pitches in his last start, one shy of his career high. The Marlins pushed him a little more in his win over the Padres, knowing (because of an off-day on Monday) he would get an extra day of rest for his start on Friday.

Don’t expect Fernandez to top 110 pitches this year. If he does, it won’t be by much.

Last year, when Fernandez pitched on five-days rest (or an extra day), he was 5-3 with a 2.75 ERA.

* Top prospect Andrew Heaney enjoyed a strong performance on Thursday in Double-A Jacksonville’s win over Birmingham. The lefty struck out eight in six scoreless innings. He walked one and allowed four hits.

Joe Frisaro

Defensive lapses continue to haunt Marlins

WASHINGTON — On nights like Wednesday, you need a short memory if you’re the Miami Marlins.

Quickly forget all that went wrong — there was plenty — in your 10-7 loss to the Nationals, move forward and get ready for Stephen Strasburg in Thursday’s series finale.

The good teams can put adversity behind them. We’re about to find out where the Marlins’ stand. Will they rebound and salvage one of the three at Nationals Park? Or will they fall victim to what’s plagued them for much of the first 10-days of the season?

That’s making crucial defenses lapses and not executing when opportunities present themselves at crucial times.

What happened last night is the Marlins hit. They hammered out 14 hits, belted two home runs, built a big lead early. Showed resiliency by rebounding after surrendering the lead. They regained the lead in the eighth inning. And even in the ninth, off closer Rafael Soriano, they had two on and Christian Yelich at the plate.

Yelich was on base five times before grounding out to end it.

Of course there will be nights where the bats come alive. Like Wednesday. There will be nights where the pitchers struggle. Like Wednesday. There just can’t be nights where you commit three errors and hope to get away with it.

You can falter in one of the three areas — pitching, hitting, defense. You can’t get away with having breakdowns in two of them.

Reliever Dan Jennings made a costly error in the middle innings, when he was unable to handle a slow chopper to the mound. Had he fielded the ball cleanly, he had an out at the plate in front of him. Instead, a run scored.

And in the eighth inning, Derek Dietrich’s throwing error on Denard Span’s bunt put runners on second and third with one out. Had Dietrich held onto the ball, acknowledging Span had a bunt single, that could have changed the entire inning.

The Nationals would have had first and second and one out. At that point, Carlos Marmol would have pitched to Anthony Rendon, instead of intentionally walking him in hopes of loading the bases for a double play.

Jayson Werth ultimately had the bases full, and he promptly connected on a game-winning grand slam.

The error was big. The end result, though, is it gets overlooked, and what is noticed are four earned runs charged to Marmol.

Observations:

* Why Marmol over A.J. Ramos? Ramos had pitched the night before, and obviously, he’s throwing the ball very well right now. But until Wednesday, Marmol had thrown four scoreless innings. Marmol was signed for such nights like Wednesday, to lock down the seventh or eighth innings.

Marmol got into trouble initially when his slider struck pinch-hitter Nate McLouth on the foot.

As Marmol noted, McLouth made no attempt to get out of the way. But no umpire is going to penalize the hitter in that situation. But had he tried to duck out of the way, the result would have been a ball, and not the tying run on base with one out. Big moment.

* Adeiny Hechavarria is becoming the talk of a number of league scouts. Many are very high on the Miami shortstop. The fact Hechavarria’s defense is solid isn’t surprising. But the 24-year-old is hitting. He’s batting .378 (14-for-37) with seven runs scored. It’s not just the batting average, it’s the approach and the improved swing, and his ability to hit the ball the other way.

* Yelich has raised his average to .290, and he paces the team with eight runs scored. Five times the 22-year-old got on base on Wednesday.

Joe Frisaro

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