MIAMI — Jose Fernandez begins his rehab assignment with Class A Jupiter on Saturday at Port Carlotte, and the speculation has already started on when the 22-year-old ace will join the Marlins.
It’s shaping up that Fernandez could be back anywhere from July 1, when Miami is at home against the Giants. Or it could be on July 7 at the Red Sox. Or, it could be any time in between, which means it could be at Wrigley Field, when Miami plays the Cubs July 3-5.
First things first, Fernandez must show he is ready. We’ll get a better indication after each rehab assignment start. The Marlins appear willing to use the full 30 days for his assignment.
The team’s approach now appears to be mirroring what any starter would do in Spring Training. On Monday, Fernandez threw 42 pitches in an extended spring game on a back field at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.
On Saturday, Fernandez may be throwing just two innings. If that is the case, it would be like a normal first outing for any pitcher in his first Spring Training game. From there, Fernandez will follow a routine, and build up accordingly.
How many innings would Fernandez need to be big league ready? Let’s take Dan Haren, for an example.
Haren made five Grapefruit League starts this spring, and logged 19 1/3 innings. So anywhere in the neighborhood should be about right for Fernandez.
If Fernandez gets five rehab starts and builds up one inning at a time, he would reach 18 innings throwing — two Saturday, followed by three, four, five and six.
Under that schedule, the six innings would be on July 1.
Should that be the case, Fernandez could be pitching for the Marlins at Fenway Park on July 7.
* The promotion of right-hander Kendry Flores has many Marlins’ fans wondering what about lefty Justin Nicolino, the club’s No. 3 prospect, according to MLB.com.
The simple answer as to why Flores over Nicolino is the front office feels the right-hander is more ready as of right now.
Nicolino is a very interesting prospect because he has talent but is not overpowering. He’s also enjoying a strong season at Triple-A New Orleans. However, on Tuesday night, he got knocked around, in an 11-2 loss to Tacoma.
The lefty gave up eight runs (seven earned) in three innings, and Tacoma belted three homers.
The rough start dropped Nicolino’s record to 4-2 and raised his ERA to 2.94.
Miami wants to make sure Nicolino is polished enough to stick in the big leagues. The scouting report is he has plus command to go with an average fastball. His pitching savvy, ability to change speeds, and work both sides of the plate impress the scouts. They’re also impressed that he can throw quality strikes when he has to. But he has to be sharp, because if he isn’t, his stuff can get hit hard.
Once Nicolino gets called up, his service time clock starts, which means his options may kick in. The organization would like to avoid bouncing him up and down, like they did last year with Andrew Heaney.
The other thing to keep in mind with Nicolino is his ceiling isn’t much higher than what he is now. Basically, he is close to being big league ready. But at this point, from the team’s perspective, it makes more sense to wait closer to July or later. Doing that guarantees he avoids being a Super 2, and reaching arbitration a season early.
Nicolino is part of the future.
Also factoring into the thinking is Brad Hand has stepped up in his starts, and Miami has Jarred Cosart close to coming off the DL.
— Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — Taking two of three from the Mets at Citi Field doesn’t push the Marlins back into contention, but it also doesn’t mean the club is thinking about selling any time soon.
Obviously, June is going to be a crucial month for the Marlins, who put themselves in a big hole at 20-31. Already, some in the New York media are speculating that the Mets may be able to pry Martin Prado away from Miami to provide insurance in case David Wright doesn’t return.
From what I’m told, the Marlins have not quit on the season. They aren’t thinking about trading away core pieces. Dealing Prado doesn’t make much sense for Miami, especially since he is under contract through 2016. The Yankees are picking up $3 million of the $11 million Prado is making this year and next.
Miami doesn’t have a third baseman ready to take over. Brian Anderson, an interesting prospect at Class A Jupiter, has potential to someday be a regular. But the former University of Arkansas star is several years away from being big league ready.
Prado is a leader on this team. Dealing him would be a tremendous blow to the clubhouse, and a signal of retreat to a market that is tired of rebuilding. Giancarlo Stanton didn’t sign here long term to see the towel thrown in after two months.
With the second Wild Card, we’ve seen teams rebound every year and make a run at the postseason.
When the Marlins named Dan Jennings manager, they did so not to give up on the season. If they are wanting to build for tomorrow, then they would have gone with someone in their Minor League system that has managing experience, like Triple-A manager Andy Haines or former Double-A manager Andy Barkett, now a hitting instructor.
Miami’s main objective is to try to get as close to .500 as possible by the All-Star Break and then figure what direction to go.
It’s not like the club has been at full strength from the start, and the mix of players didn’t come together. The Marlins have been without Jose Fernandez all year, and Mat Latos wasn’t completely healthy in April and May, which is why he is on the DL. Jarred Cosart is also close to returning from the DL.
Henderson Alvarez may be out at least a month or two. But he could return in the second half to provide a lift.
The Marlins’ priority now is getting their pitching in order, and try to make a run. They aren’t thinking about moving a core player like Prado to a team that Miami still may catch in the standings.
— Joe Frisaro
NEW YORK — Some “outside the box” thinking led to the Marlins moving Dan Jennings from general manager to manager two weeks ago.
Jennings, who never had any prior coaching or managing experience at the professional level, has not been shy about trying new things with his roster. In Saturday’s 9-5 win over the Mets at Citi Field, he called upon closer A.J. Ramos to pick up a four-out save. The strategy worked as Ramos gave Miami its first four-out save since Steve Cishek did it last May.
In the series finale against the Mets on Sunday, Jennings didn’t hesitate to trying something different again. He batted starting pitcher David Phelps eighth and light-hitting catcher Jhonatan Solano ninth.
It’s the first time a Marlins starter has batted higher than ninth since Dontrelle Willis did it four times in 2005. Then manager Jack McKeon twice batted D-Train seventh and two times more had him hit eighth.
Willis, and now Phelps, are the only two starters in franchise history ever to bat other than ninth.
“Trying to be a little creative with the personnel that was playing today,” Jennings said. “We knew these guys were going to play today.”
Ichiro Suzuki started in center in place of Marcell Ozuna, and batted fifth. Ichiro has a .317 batting average in 102 plate appearances against Bartolo Colon.
Adeiny Hechavarria is still out with a bruised left shoulder, so Donovan Solano started at shortstop.
Catcher J.T. Realmuto was given the day off, common for a regular catcher to sit the day after a night game, especially after playing all week.
Jhonatan Solano entered the game hitting .059 (1-for-17) and Phelps .071 (1-for-14). But that had little to do with the decision to hit a position player ninth.
“We’re essentially trying to get a little more meat on the bone for the top of the order when it rolls around,” Jennings said. “Bunt situation thing, as well as some double-switch thoughts. We’ll see how it unfolds.”
Jennings doesn’t anticipate batting the pitcher eighth when Realmuto and Hechavarria are in the lineup.
There is no definitive statistic that suggests more runners will be on base for the top of the order if a pitcher bats eight. But the general idea is the number of guys on base for the two, three, four hitters goes up slightly as the game progresses.
— Joe Frisaro
NEW YORK –- Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria expects to miss at least a couple of games after he was involved in a collision in the ninth inning of Friday’s 4-3 win over the Mets at Citi Field.
Hechavarria, who started all of Miami’s first 49 games, injured his left shoulder after running into left fielder Christian Yelich on Daniel Murphy’s bloop double. Donovan Solano got the nod at shortstop on Saturday.
More on Hechavarria’s status will be known after he is examined by a doctor at Citi Field on Saturday. Hechavarria did say he wouldn’t be able to play on Sunday, either.
“I’m just waiting for the doctor to come in and evaluate me, and then I’ll have a better understanding of where I’ll be after today,” Hechavarria said.
Hechavarria and Yelich were both shaken up on Murphy’s floater that landed between the two Miami defenders.
“I was looking to see how deep Yelich was playing,” Hechavarria said. “I noticed he was getting close to me, and I slowed down. I went down to the ground, and he slid at the same time. That’s when it happened.”
The collision occurred with one out, but Hechavarria opted to remain in the game, although he knew he wouldn’t have been able to hit if the game went to extra innings.
“As far as hitting, I knew I couldn’t hit,” he said. “My shoulder was bothering me. It was tight. As far as getting taken out of the game at that moment. My shoulder hurt. I got the wind knocked out of me, and it was tough for me to breath. There was one out. If a play was hit to me, I was going to do whatever I could to get them out.”
If Hechavarria is out for an extended period, shortstop Miguel Rojas is a likely candidate to be called up from Triple-A New Orleans.
— Joe Frisaro
NEW YORK — When you are going through a collective slump like the Marlins are, there is plenty of blame to spread around. The offense has struggled to score. The rotation has been hobbled with three Opening Day starters on the disabled list.
Then, there is the bullpen. Granted, it has been overused. But it also has let a number of late-leads slip away. The most recent missed chance came on Wednesday, when the Pirates rallied with two outs and no one on in the seventh inning to score five runs. Miami’s two-run lead was erased in a 5-2 loss at PNC Park.
With each loss comes more scrutiny.
Again, we can dissect all parts of the club. We can question (and many are) if Dan Jennings is the right choice to manage. Well the bottom line is simple, it doesn’t matter who is calling the shots if late-inning leads aren’t preserved.
To stay on point with the bullpen, these are games in the late innings where Miami had a lead, only to either lose or have to rally.
In the last two road trips alone, four blown saves resulted in four losses. Three came during their 10-game swing, with one at Washington, one at San Francisco and the final one at the Dodgers. Say Miami wins three or all four of those? Suddenly a 18-30 record is either 21-27 or 22-26 mark. Either way, that’s much more manageable when you’re striving to get to .500 by the All-Star Break.
For the season, the Marlins have an MLB-low five saves — Steve Cishek (three) and A.J. Ramos (two).
The Marlins are 5-for-14 in save opportunities. Their save percentage of 35.7 is the lowest in the Majors. Their nine blown saves are second only to the D-backs’ 10.
Cishek, who converted three of seven chances, still has the most blown saves in the Majors.
I noted recently that if Miami is to get back into the mix, pitching will have to lead the way. The starters must go deep into games. But clearly, when there are late-leads, the bullpen must do its part to lock down potential wins.
— Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — If the Marlins are going to turn things around, they’ll be counting heavily on some of their young pitching prospects. Injuries have placed them in this tough predicament.
After Friday’s 8-5 loss to the Orioles, Miami placed Henderson Alvarez (right shoulder inflammation) and Mat Latos (left knee inflammation) on the disabled list. So the club will be without the starters who were Nos. 1 and 2 in its rotation when the season opened.
The ailing rotation also has Jarred Cosart (vertigo) on the DL, so they are down three from the group that opened the year.
For immediate help, the Marlins are bringing up two relievers from Triple-A New Orleans — Andre Rienzo and Vin Mazzaro, who will have his contract selected. Rienzo offers flexibility because he can start.
The team won’t need another starter until Tuesday. It’s expected to be either prospect Justin Nicolino or Jose Urena. Both are at New Orleans. Kendry Flores at Double-A Jacksonville is also knocking on the door, being ready for a promotion to the big leagues.
Alvarez’s injury will be one to watch. Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com reported Alvarez has been pitching for years with a partial ucl tear in his elbow. I’ve confirmed that, and heard the Marlins were aware of his medical situation when they made their 12-player trade with the Blue Jays after the 2012 season. Miami was comfortable with Alvarez’s medical
report, just as Toronto knew Josh Johnson had arm issues. So each team was willing to accept the potential risks.
Latos going on the DL was not unexpected. He admitted a few weeks ago in San Francisco that he had his left knee drained in Spring Training, which explains some of his April struggles.
Clearly, Latos was laboring. The fact Latos and Alvarez struggled to get through six innings put added stress on an already shaky bullpen.
As big of a hole as the Marlins placed themselves in, the objective is to get close to .500 by the All-Star Break. If they can do that, they will have Jose Fernandez back, and they could still make a playoff push.
In order to get there, prospects like Nicolino, Urena and perhaps Flores could play a major role.
It’s a tall task. Maybe an unrealistic one. But they are healthy, and right now, appear to give the Marlins their best chances to win.
— Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — Who knows how this all will play out in Miami, but one thing is certain — the industry is closely monitoring what is going on with the Marlins. They’re waiting and seeing how Dan Jennings’ transition from general manager to Marlins manager works.
If it is a hit, it could be a game-changer in the industry. This move directly connects the front office to the clubhouse. In Mike Redmond, the players and coaching staff had a buffer from the top.
Now, the man filling out the lineup card is on the same page as those executives in the suites.
If this doesn’t work, the critics will have a field day.
From what I’ve gathered, Jennings has no shortage of supporters. A number of scouts are pulling for him, and believe if anyone can pull this off, it’s DJ.
Foremost for Jennings is winning the trust of his players. Right now, two key players are open to giving him a chance — Giancarlo Stanton and Ichiro Suzuki. Having the support of those two is essential.
Jennings’ people skills are unmatched in baseball. Don’t sell him short on connecting with the players and getting them to buy into what he is saying.
* In the weeks leading up to Redmond being let go, it became clear he wasn’t on the same page with the front office in terms of roster decisions. This ended up becoming a factor. One example is Redmond ideally wanted Henderson Alvarez to have at least one more rehab assignment start, while Jennings was in agreement with the Opening Day starter taking the mound on Sunday.
* The decision to replace Redmond was already decided before Sunday’s game with the Braves. A team meeting notification was on the message board in the clubhouse, so the players knew something was happening. They just didn’t know what.
* Redmond indeed almost was dismissed after the Marlins were swept by the Mets at Citi Field in early April. One of the voices to stop it from happening was the general manager — Dan Jennings.
* The Marlins are in the market for an advance scout. Mike Goff was handling the role, but he is now the bench coach. Goff is a key figure in if this works out for Jennings, because he is an experienced coach. He was Seattle’s bench coach in 2007. Goff also has been a close friend of Jennings for more than 30 years.
* It’s also important to note, if Jennings doesn’t feel this is working, he is expected to go back to being the full-time general manager. That wouldn’t be until after the season.
— Joe Frisaro
LOS ANGELES — What a relief for the Marlins. A.J. Ramos chalked up big league career save No. 1 on Wednesday, breezing through a perfect ninth inning in Miami’s 5-4 comeback victory over Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium.
Not only was Ramos undaunted by the task of his first save chance, the right-hander showed signs of dominance, striking out two before ending it on Andre Ethier’s routine fly ball to right. The moment was extra special for Ramos because his parents, who live in Texas, were at the ballpark.
Now, one save doesn’t make a closer. But the Marlins are in dire need to fix their late-inning struggles. All things considered, a 4-6 road trip, wasn’t that bad, especially against that level of opposition — the Nationals, Giants (four games) and Dodgers.
Before leaving Miami, you’d pretty much would have taken 5-5. And 4-6 didn’t knock them too far off course. But what could have been was one of the best road trips in years. The sticky point is the three blown saves. If all three were converted, then you’re looking at a 7-3 swing.
So who will close? The Marlins can say they will go by matchups, but based on what we saw in L.A., Ramos is deserving of getting a look. All three batters he retired batted lefty.
The struggles of the ‘pen are well known. Miami weighed all options, and had discussions with free agent Rafael Soriano. But after seeing Soriano throw, the team felt the veteran isn’t an upgrade over what they already have. Also, because Soriano has remained on the market, and didn’t have the benefit of Spring Training, it would take him at least a couple of weeks to be in position to help.
The Marlins are scrambling to get over .500 as quickly as possible. They’re 16-19 heading into Friday’s series opener against the Braves at Marlins Park.
It’s appearing more likely that Miami’s best chances of solidifying its ‘pen is working with the options already in the organization.
Jarred Cosart’s tight hamstring could also play into the equation. Cosart will be evaluated Thursday, and if he has to miss a start or go on the disabled list, chances are the Marlins will reinstate Henderson Alvarez to pitch this weekend.
The team has been weighing whether to give Alvarez one more rehab assignment start, at Double-A Jacksonville, or activate him for Sunday. Cosart’s injury may make that decision for the club.
From the sounds of things, the team wants to fix the ‘pen as quickly as possible. David Phelps opened the season in the bullpen, but stepped into the rotation after Alvarez went on the DL with right shoulder inflammation. Phelps could go back to the ‘pen, offering late-innings depth. Or, Tom Koehler could swing from rotation to ‘pen. There is a feeling Koehler could handle any role — start, long relief, setup or even close.
If Miami wants both Koehler and Phelps in the ‘pen, lefty prospect Justin Nicolino is impressing at Triple-A. He could come up to join the rotation.
It is doubtful Koehler, if moved out of rotation, would immediately close. But he is capable of being the eighth inning option.
And let’s not completely rule out Steve Cishek. He’s working now to get right. And in a month or so, he may fix his mechanics, and regain that difficult-to-hit downward movement. If that happens, and Ramos runs with the closer job, Miami could be in a good spot. Then, they’d have two closer options.
History has shown many playoff teams have more than one candidate who can close. It would be ideal for Miami if Ramos and Cishek become that tandem.
— Joe Frisaro
LOS ANGELES — First, let’s address the news. The Marlins have indeed expressed interest in Rafael Soriano, the 35-year-old with 207 games. There has been some dialogue between the team and agent Scott Boras.
The signing price likely won’t come cheap, and whether a deal gets done will depend on if Miami believes Soriano is the right closer option for the price. A year ago with Washington, the right-hander saved 32 of 39 chances.
But Soriano isn’t the only alternative as the Marlins frantically try to figure out what to do about locking down the final outs of games.
Steve Cishek has been among the most reliable players on the team over the past few seasons. Homegrown, the side-arm throwing right-hander converted 39 of 43 in 2014. He had a WHIP of 1.21 and struck out 84, while walking 21, in 65 1/3 innings.
Cishek definitely earned his long leash. He’s saved 94 of 108 in his impressive career.
That’s why it was absolutely the right call to send Cishek out in the ninth inning on Monday, the day after the right-hander blew a chance at San Francisco. Manager Mike Redmond showed faith in his veteran. Once again, the end result was another painful finish. Scott Van Slyke blasted a walk-off, three-run homer, lifting the Dodgers to a 5-3 victory.
Miami, now 3-5 on the road trip, has seen three late leads disappear on what could have been a remarkable 10-game road swing through Washington, San Francisco and now Los Angeles.
In the first game of the trip at Nationals Park, it was Bryan Morris who couldn’t protect a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning. Washington responded for four runs in the inning, and won 6-4.
On Sunday, Cishek walked Nori Aoki with the bases loaded, forcing in the tying run in the ninth inning. Matt Duffy’s walk-off single gave the Giants a 3-2 win. Cishek is now 1-3 with a 10.32 ERA and 2.02 WHIP with 13 strikeouts and eight walks.
To get him right, he is expected to be used in earlier innings.
Redmond said after Monday’s loss he doesn’t know what the team will do. For now, mixing and matching appears the way they’ll go. The problem is, the candidates, A.J. Ramos, Morris and lefty Mike Dunn, have combined for four saves, all by Dunn.
Ramos is the most likely candidate to throw the inning. But the right-hander has never had a save. Ramos does have a 1.06 ERA and 0.82 WHIP this season. Morris, also with no career saves, has struggled with a 4.60 ERA. And Dunn, too, has been up and down this year — 4.26 ERA.
What else can Miami do? A trade is possible. In Spring Training, the Marlins were in the mix to sign Francisco Rodriguez, who ended up going back to the Brewers. K-Rod is 7-for-7 with a 1.38 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP. Perhaps Miami could work out a trade for the veteran.
Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies is 6-for-6 in save chances, and has 331 career saves.
At what cost of prospects are the Marlins willing to go? The front office is likely asking themselves that same question.
What else could they do? Be creative with what they have. Tom Koehler, who threw six strong innings on Monday, has experience in the bullpen. His fastball is in the 95 mph range. Henderson Alvarez is close to coming off the disabled list, and Koehler could be sliding into the ‘pen. Could he get a shot to close? Maybe.
If the club is leaning, and I don’t know for sure if they are, on giving Koehler a more immediate shot, lefty prospect Justin Nicolino could get called up from Triple-A New Orleans to join the rotation. That could slide Koehler into the mix in five day. Again, that is all speculation with internal options.
For now, all options are on the table.
— Joe Frisaro
SAN FRANCISCO — Giancarlo Stanton, mired in a 4-for-25 road trip, was given a breather on Sunday in the Marlins’ series finale with the Giants at AT&T Park.
Stanton has one homer, five RBIs and struck out 11 times in the first six games of the road trip, which started at Washington and moved to San Francisco.
It’s the first time since May 18, 2014 (also at San Francisco) that Stanton was not starting when he was healthy. He did miss the final few weeks of 2014 after being struck in the face by a pitch at Milwaukee on Sept. 11.
Actually, manager Mike Redmond talked with Stanton a few days ago about possibly taking Sunday off. The Marlins are in the midst of a 10-game, three-city trip. They open a three-game set at the Dodgers on Monday.
“I talked with G four or five days ago, just planted the seed,” Redmond said. “Looking at the schedule, this looked like it would be a good day. Not thinking otherwise.”
Stanton is available to pinch-hit, and play, if necessary. In 31 games, he’s batting .248 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs.
The road trip has been a struggle.
“With him, sometimes he will get out of his strike zone,” Redmond said. “It happens with all hitters, not just him. Sometimes it’s good to just take a day, and let them sit back and relax. We’ve done that with a few guys.
“Give him a mental break, and get him back in there tomorrow. It’s tough to get him out of the lineup. He has the ability to hit a home run every time. But at the same time, too, we need him for the long haul. We need him fresh.”
With Stanton out, Ichiro Suzuki played right field, and batted third for the first time since May 29, 2012, when he was with the Mariners.
* Left fielder Christian Yelich on Sunday was in the fifth spot for the first time in his career. The 23-year-old had always hit either first, second or third when he’s started.
Yelich, who came off the disabled list on Friday after being out with a lower-back strain, is 9-for-53 (.170) in his first 13 games. He opened the season batting second, behind Dee Gordon.
Martin Prado has stepped up in the second spot, and Redmond wants to keep the Gordon/Prado combination together.
“I talked with him about it,” Redmond said. “He’s going to be fine. He needs to play. He needs to get at-bats. He’s been off for a couple of weeks. Hit him a little bit lower, get him going, and we’ll figure out where the best spot for him is going forward.”
The Marlins envision Yelich moving to the middle of the order as his career progresses. Hitting fifth should enable him to drive in more runs, and not be primarily a table-setter.
“That’s no big deal,” Yelich said. “I don’t care where I hit in the lineup. That doesn’t bother me.”
Yelich actually was going to hit in the fifth spot on April 20 at Philadelphia. But before the lineup was announced, he was scratched due to his strained lower back. He was placed on the disabled list.
“I have so much confidence in him as a player in any situation,” Redmond said. “He just needs to go in there, keep getting at-bats, and get himself going.”
Redmond hasn’t ruled out hitting Yelich fourth. The team is committed to batting Stanton third, otherwise, Yelich is a candidate to bat there as well.
“Yeli can hit anywhere. He can hit fourth, too,” Redmond said. “I would have no problem hitting him in the cleanup spot, or three.”
* Pregame Sunday, Yelich met former Giants slugger Barry Bonds. Bonds, a high school teammate of Marlins bench coach Rob Leary, was on the field chatting.
“I watched him growing up,” Yelich said of Bonds. “We were mostly, hanging out, talking.”
— Joe Frisaro