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Hand gets start Saturday vs. Mets

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins are shaking things up a bit with their split-squad day on Saturday.

Brad Hand will get the start on Saturday against the Mets at Roger Dean Stadium, and Henderson Alvarez will start at the Nationals in Viera.

Initially, Alvarez was scheduled to start in Jupiter, and Kevin Slowey was lined up to pitch at Viera.

Hand threw one inning of relief on Wednesday in a Minor League game, but he is being looked at in either the fifth starter or long relief role.

Tom Koehler also is competing for the fifth spot. Koehler threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings in a Minor League game on Wednesday.

The Marlins face the Cardinals on Thursday at Roger Dean Stadium. Jose Fernandez is getting the start.

LINEUP

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

INJURY

Rafael Furcal (left hamstring) continues to move along slowly, and it is questionable if he will be ready for Opening Day. Before getting into a game, Furcal will go through a running progression. When he is ready to return, he likely will play in Minor League games, because that way if he opens the season on the DL, he can be placed retro-active to March 21. In that scenario, the earliest he could be activated is April 5.

Ed Lucas (left hamstring) is scheduled to DH in a Minor League game at Port St. Lucie on Thursday. He hopes to be on the field in a couple of days.

Greg Dobbs (left quadriceps) is doing some baseball activities, but there is not set return day.

Joe Frisaro

Possible Opening Day batting order

JUPITER, Fla. — It’s 13 days and counting until the Marlins open on March 31 against the Rockies at Marlins Park.

Here’s what we know about the projected starting lineup: Rafael Furcal is nursing a left hamstring strain and Marcell Ozuna has had his struggles. So that leaves questions at second base and center field.

There is still time for Furcal to get healthy and be ready, and it’s too early to count Ozuna out of the Opening Day lineup.

But based on what we know at this point, on this date, the Marlins have to be looking at all their options. And they are. That’s why Derek Dietrich started at second base on Tuesday in Miami’s 8-1 win over the Astros. And Jake Marisnick was in center field.

In recent days, Christian Yelich and Brian Bogusevic also have seen time in center field. Donovan Solano has seen time at shortstop and second base. We also know Ed Lucas (left hamstring) is at least a couple of days away from game action.

For speculation purposes only, here is my projected Opening Day lineup and batting order. It is based on my observations and input from a number of people. This is not what manager Mike Redmond has indicated or openly said.

If the opener was right now, here is what it very well might look like: Christian Yelich (CF), Derek Dietrich (2B), Giancarlo Stanton (RF), Garrett Jones (1B), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C), Casey McGehee (3B), Jeff Baker (LF), Adeiny Hechavarria (SS) and Jose Fernandez (P).

Why Dietrich over Solano? My thinking is Solano, who plays shortstop, is being looked at more in a utility role. Why Baker over Reed Johnson or Brian Bogusevic? He gives a little mroe offense, and allows Johnson to be the right-handed pinch-hit option.

Why no Ozuna? To get his swing right, maybe a brief Minor League stint would be helpful. Same holds true for Marisnick.

Why no Furcal? Furcal could open the season on the DL, retro to March 21, which makes him eligible to be back on April 5.

At a later date, I’ll project the rotation, bullpen and bench.

Joe Frisaro

Koehler throwing Minors game Wednesday

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins may be off on Wednesday, but projected fifth starter Tom Koehler is scheduled to throw six innings in a Minor League game on a back field at Roger Dean Stadium.

The Marlins are keeping on his regular five-day schedule, which is why he isn’t going on Thursday when the club returns to Grapefruit League play.

Koehler has made a strong case to be the fifth starter, and the lone day off in Spring Training doesn’t appear to be sidetracking those plans.

Koehler is scheduled to throw six innings on Wednesday, and Brad Hand will throw one inning. Hand is going four days after throwing five hitless innings against the Yankees last Saturday in Panama.

Hand also has been in the mix for the fifth starter spot. But the lefty also is a candidate to relieve.

Manager Mike Redmond said on Tuesday that he looks forward to seeing who steps under pressure. Koehler, Jacob Turner, Hand and Kevin Slowey appear to be competing for three spots.

Upcoming rotation

Jose Fernandez will face the Cardinals on Thursday, and Nathan Eovaldi will start Friday at the Astros. On Saturday, there is the final split-squad day. Henderson Alvarez will start at Roger Dean Stadium against the Mets, and Slowey will start at Washington.

Injury update

Rafael Furcal (left hamstring) is hitting in the cages and doing some light baseball activities. He is still a couple of days away from being game ready.

Ed Lucas (left hamstring) could be in a game as early as Thursday.

Greg Dobbs (quad) is not expected to be out more than a few more days.

Lineup

Against the Astros on Tuesday, the Marlins are starting Jacob Turner. Dallas Keuchel is starting for Houston.

1) Marisnick CF
2) Solano SS
3) Stanton RF
4) Baker 1B
5) McGehee 3B
6) Johnson LF
7) Dietrich 2B
8) Mathis C
9) Turner

Joe Frisaro

Heaney, Brantly among second wave of cuts

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins had a busy transaction day on Monday, sending top prospect Andrew Heaney and catcher Rob Brantly to the Minor Leagues.

In all, 17 moves were made.

Brantly, the club’s Opening Day catcher a year ago, was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans.

Heaney, ranked by MLB.com as the No. 1 lefty pitcher in the game, will open the year at Double-A Jacksonville.

With Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jeff Mathis on the big league club, it was expected that Brantly would eventually get sent down. It happened on Monday, where he can get regular game action with New Orleans.

Brantly, Sam Dyson and Brian Flynn were optioned to New Orleans.

Edgar Olmos was optioned to Jacksonville.

The other 13 players were reassigned to Minor League camp. The list includes Heaney, Nick Wittgren, Bryan Evans, James Leverton, Greg Nappo, Adam Conley, Josh Spence, Rett Varner, Austin Barnes, Danny Black, Mark Canha, Colin Moran and Joe Benson.

Joe Frisaro

Crunch time about to begin

JUPITER, Fla. — So far, there have been plenty of positives for the Marlins this Spring Training. They’ve shown depth, and the ability to win games. Not that it means much, but the club wakes up on St. Patrick’s Day with an 11-7 record, which is tied with the Giants for the best mark among any National League team.

The pitching, as expected, has been strong. Their 2.84 ERA is the best of any team in the Majors. A highlight was a rare Spring Training no-hitter on Saturday against the Yankees in Panama.

Hitting, obviously, is an issue. They have scored 74 runs, which ranks 26th in the Majors.

In general, hitting tends to be behind the pitching the first half of Spring Training.

Another bonus for the Marlins is they’ve been relatively healthy, except for Rafael Furcal’s hamstring strain.

Overall, it’s been a productive camp.

That said, a better indicator of where the Marlins stand starts now, on St. Patrick’s Day.

Another round of roster moves is likely on Monday, and the competition will heat up for remaining roster spots. There are 13 games left in Spring Training, and Opening Day is March 31 against the Rockies at Marlins Park.

Now is the time to focus on bubble spots, and players on the fence. Until now, players were getting their timing and swings down, and working on their and pitches. The performance over these next 13 days should give a better clue of what to expect from the Marlins once the regular season gets underway.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins mindful of options

JUPITER, Fla. — Brad Hand on Saturday night gained some notoriety as well as enhanced his chances of making the Marlins’ Opening Day roster.

The left-hander went five innings on Saturday night in Miami’s combined no-hitter against the Yankees in Panama.

Hand is in the mix for either a rotation shot or he could make the club as a long reliever. Each outing is crucial for Hand and the Marlins, who are in the evaluation process.

There is some urgency in deciding what to do with Hand because the 23-year-old is out of options. So his status is simple, he either is on the Opening Day roster or he will likely be traded.

Hand is in a similar situation to Jacob Turner, a frontrunner for the fourth spot. Turner, 22, also is out of options.

The fact that both of these players were rushed to the big leagues at an early age is catching up to the organization.

There tends to be excitement when a talented young arm is moving up through the system. Teams like to see if they are the answer and can produce at the highest level.

It worked last year with Jose Fernandez, who made his MLB debut at age 20 last April. He turned 21 in July, and went on to be the National League Rookie of the Year.

Neither Hand nor Turner had the instant big league success that Fernandez enjoyed. So they had years where they were called up and optioned back down to the Minor Leagues.

Now, at still young ages, Hand and Turner are at a crossroads with the Marlins.

This is where the business side of the sport comes into play, and an example of the risks a club takes when bringing up their young prospects before they are entirely ready.

This also is a reason why Andrew Heaney is expected to open the sesaon at Double-A Jacksonville.

Heaney, ranked by MLB.com as the top lefty pitching prospect in the game, arguably is one of the most talented starters in camp.

That said, the Marlins have the benefit right now of pitching depth. So there is no reason to open the year with Heaney in the rotation.

Yes, there is plenty to be excited about with Heaney. And yes, he may be ready right now to get big league hitters out. But say, he isn’t. Then what? If someone like Heaney struggled in April, chances are he would be optioned to the Minors. Then, one of his option years would be used up prematurely.

For every Fernandez success story, there are stories of Turner and Hand, two talented pitchers with upside.

At least now, the Marlins have the type of pitching depth to allow some of their young pitchers to further develop, without risking burning an option year.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins options at second base

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins remain hopeful Rafael Furcal will be just fine, and ready for Opening Day on March 31.

In the next few days we will know whether that is wishful thinking.

Furcal aggravated his left hamstring in the third inning of Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium.

The 36-year-old was lifted for a pinch-runner five days after he intially strained the hamstring.

Saturday was his first time in the lineup since Monday against the Mets at Port St. Lucie.

So what’s next?

Furcal was not scheduled to travel to Fort Myers on Sunday to take on the Twins. So Monday would be the earliest he could return, but that appears highly unlikely.

He needed five days of treatment to get back on the field on Saturday. If he needs to miss five more days, then he will have just over a week to get ready for the opener.

If Furcal does open the season on the disabled list, there is a chance he wouldn’t have to miss much time.

The Marlins could place the veteran on the DL, retroactive to March 21. That’s the earliest retro date available. In that is the course the club takes, Furcal could be reinstated 15 days later, which would be April 5, the team’s sixth game.

As long as Furcal is out, the Marlins will have intense competition at second base for the rest of camp. Derek Dietrich, who is having a solid Spring Training, could have an inside edge.

Donovan Solano, who played regularly there the past two years, is another option.

Ed Lucas is competing for a utility spot, but he is missing a few days now due to a strained left hamstring.

Along with playing second base, Furcal also is the projected leadoff hitter. Who bats first would be another question. The answer could depend on who replaces Furcal.

If it is Solano, chances are he would lead off. Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton would follow.

If Dietrich is the choice, Yelich likely would lead off, with Dietrich batting second, and Stanton third.

More answers should be known in the upcoming few days.

Joe Frisaro

Fallback option in center field

JUPITER, Fla. — Center field has become a position to closely watch over the final two weeks of Marlins’ camp.

Entering Spring Training, Marcell Ozuna was considered the frontrunner. But the 23-year-old, who missed the second half of last year due to a left thumb injury, has had some rough moments at the plate and in the field.

If Ozuna doesn’t claim the position, the fallback plan could be Christian Yelich.

Yelich can cover ground, and has played center in the Minor Leagues. His arm isn’t ideal for the position, but he could handle the job, if necessary.

Yelich has been the projected left fielder, but on Saturday night against the Yankees in Panama, he was in the lineup in center field. There would be a question of Yelich’s arm strength in center, but he has shown improvement.

Jake Marisnick is another center field candidate. Marisnick has been having a solid spring, but he is working on shortening his swing. He may be better served opening at Triple-A New Orleans to get additional at-bats. And if Ozuna isn’t the starting center fielder, then he too, could be heading to New Orleans.

Ozuna started in center field on Saturday afternoon against the Nationals. But on Friday night, Ozuna was in left field.

If Yelich ends up being in center field on Opening Day, that clears the way for Reed Johnson (non-roster invitee) to make the team and play left field. Brian Bogusevic, a left-handed hitter, could platoon. And Jeff Baker is another option as a corner outfielder.

The Marlins are seeking versatility from their players. And the club has repeatedly said it will carry the best 25.

Joe Frisaro

Strasburg vs. Fernandez

JUPITER, Fla. — It may be an ordinary mid-Spring Training game on Saturday afternoon, but the pitching matchup is one of the best thus far in the Grapefruit League season.

Jose Fernandez and Stephen Strasburg are set to start at 1:05 p.m. ET at Roger Dean Stadium.

The Marlins have already announced Fernandez will start on Opening Night on March 31 against the Rockies. Washington opens the same day at the Mets.

The Nationals have yet to name their Opening Day starter, but Strasburg is believed to be the likely choice.

“These are two of the bright, young pitching stars in the game,” Marlins bench coach Rob Leary said. “That being said, it’s a Spring Training game, and guys are getting ready for the season. From our perspective, it’s good to see. We’re going to face a really good one, but we’re sending a really good one out there ourselves.”

Fernandez is scheduled to throw about 60 pitches, compared to roughly 50 for Strasburg.

Saturday also marks the return to the lineup for Marlins second baseman Rafael Furcal, who sustained a mild left hamstring strain on Monday.

The Marlins have half of their start in Jupiter, and the other half in Panama for their two-game set against the Yankees.

Miami is starting Brad Hand in Panama.

Injury update:

Ed Lucas, who strained his left hamstring on Thursday, is progressing nicely. Lucas was in uniform for stretch on Saturday morning. He is still taking it day to day, and being cautious.

Marlins vs. Nationals

1) Furcal 2B
2) Solano SS
3) Saltalamacchia C
4) McGehee DH
5) Ozuna CF
6) Bogusevic RF
7) Johnson LF
8) Wigginton 1B
9) Rodriguez 3B

vs. Yankees

1) Marisnick LF
2) Yelich CF
3) Stanton RF
4) Jones 1B
5) Mathis C
6) Dietrich 2B
7) Hechavarria SS
8) Moran 3B
9) Barnes DH

Joe Frisaro

Lucas hopeful to return in a few days

JUPITER, Fla. — Ed Lucas appears to have avoided a serious hamstring issue, but the utility infielder still is expected to sit out at least the next few days at Marlins camp.

Lucas strained his left hamstring in the fourth inning on Thursday while running the bases. He felt something catch just before reaching third base in Miami’s 4-2 win over the Tigers in Lakeland.

On Friday, Lucas was receiving treatment, and he was encouraged that he likely isn’t seriously hurt. Still, there is disappointment, because he is competing for a roster spot, and the setback caused him to not attend the Marlins’ two-game exhibition against the Yankees this weekend in Panama.

“It’s not the time I need to be missing any games right now,” Lucas said. “It’s a little disappointing in that sense. But I look at the bright side. It’s not too serious. Not a big deal. I’ll be able to bounce back real quick.”

Lucas is enjoying a solid spring, batting .318 (7-for-22) with a triple, home run and four RBIs.

Lucas and Donovan Solano are frontrunners for a utility infield spot.

Derek Dietrich filled in for Lucas at second base on Thursday.

The circumstances surrounding Thursday’s game were conducive to hamstring pulls. The temperatures were the coldest of any Marlins’ game this spring, and the team made a close to three-hour bus ride.

“It’s one of those Spring Training situations where you get off the bus, and then it was a little colder. Who knows?,” Lucas said.

Baker back

Jeff Baker, who strained his left quadriceps on Monday, was back in the starting lineup on Friday night. Baker suffered his setback at Port St. Lucie against the Mets. Baker was at first base on Friday.

Rafael Furcal (left hamstring) is targeting a return on Saturday.

Lineup vs. Mets

1) Solano SS
2) Brantly C
3) Baker 1B
4) Saltalamacchia DH
5) McGehee 3B
6) Ozuna LF
7) Johnson RF
8) Bogusevic CF
9) Harbin 2B

Tom Koehler is starting vs. Zack Wheeler

Taylor Harbin is filling in at second base from Minor League camp.

Joe Frisaro

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