Marlins scouting prep star Aiken

SAN DIEGO — Miami’s West Coast trip has provided the front office with a chance to multi-task.

Before the Marlins face the Padres on Friday night, president of baseball operations Michael Hill will make a visit to a high school field. The Marlins will be well represented scouting left-hander Brady Aiken of Central Catholic High School in San Diego.

The Marlins have the second overall pick in the June 5 First-Year Player Draft. Some projections have the prep standout going first to the Astros.

Also out on the trip, the Marlins are scouting another Southern California prep talent, catcher Alex Jackson, who also plays third base and outfield.

From an organizational standpoint, they’re covering all the bases. They’ve also extensively scouted Texas right-hander, Tyle Kolek.

The interesting thing about this Draft is the player who had long been considered a lock to go first overall may be dropping. Carlos Rodon, the left-hander from North Carolina State, is being more closely examined because of a dip in velocity.

Had Rodon been eligible in the previous two Drafts, he likely would have gone No. 1 overall in both of them. Now, he could slip past the top two spots.

Like the Marlins, the Astros are leaning towards pitching.

A year ago, Rodon was throwing 98 mph, combined with a nasty slider. Now, his fastball is around 94 mph.

Rodon basically is big league ready now. But if there are arm issues, the Marlins may pass if he is available.

But if the velocity rises to the upper 90s, Rodon again could find himself going first or second.

How much of a factor is velocity for Rodon? It factors into how he is projected. At 98 mph, he is regarded as a starter. If the velo is 92-94, he could wind up in the bullpen.

With the dollars being spent at the top two picks, teams are looking for an impact starter, not a reliever.

Joe Frisaro

Stanton primed for MVP-type run

MIAMI — At this pace, Giancarlo Stanton could be primed to do something never accomplished in Marlins’ history. The 24-year-old right fielder could become the organization’s first MVP winner.

So many great players have come and gone through South Florida. None better than Miguel Cabrera, who finished second one time in the batting title race during his days in Miami. Hanley Ramirez in 2009 won the batting title, and finished second to Albert Pujols in the MVP voting.

No Marlin has ever finished higher than second for the top individual honor.

Could Stanton’s brute force power him to the top? If he stays healthy, it’s certainly possible.

Stanton tops the NL in home runs with 10 and leads the Majors in RBIs with 37. He’s batting a respectable .283 and his slugging percentage is at .591.

As impressive as Stanton has been, the player that topped him for National League Player of the Month in April is Troy Tulowitzki.

The Rockies shortstop is off to a blistering start. He has nine homers and 29 RBIs, and a whopping slugging percentage of .786.

Like Stanton, the key for Tulo is health. If he stays healthy, the National League could have a remarkable two-player race. At least, two players in the early going.

In handicapping the MVP field, you have to ask, are the numbers sustainable? Stanton basically is showing what he is capable of, and quite honestly, he is excelling without being as consistent as he’d like. Tulo, on the other hand, is batting .408. That’s his batting average. Obviously, it is highly doubtful he will become the first player since Ted Williams to finish above .400.

Stanton’s impact also is measured by how valuable he is to his team. The Marlins last year finished last in runs scored. The Rockies have consistently been a high-scoring team, especially at home.

Stanton also is showing he can make the players around him better. Casey McGehee, remember, was playing in Japan last year. McGehee now is batting cleanup for Miami, and he has four game-winning RBIs this year. McGehee also is batting .411 with runners on base, .406 with runners in scoring position and .444 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

Garrett Jones, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Marcell Ozuna are lengthening the lineup hitting behind Stanton.

Still, Stanton is the first to admit, he has his ups and downs.

“I just have to realize, you don’t have swing as hard as you can, and you don’t have always hit a home run to be successful to get runners in,” Stanton said.

It’s pretty basic for Stanton. Don’t chase bad pitches.

“It’s just doing what I can with balls over the plate,” he said. “I’ve had some really bad games with balls over the plate. Just keeping it going, and not thinking about those, and keep pushing forward on what I can control, and help this team win.”

The Marlins clearly are built around Stanton. With his size and power, he can do so much damage when not trying to do too much.

“He gets so much leverage through the zone,” manager Mike Redmond said. “With him being as big as he is, and as strong as he is, he doesn’t have to overpower the baseball. He just has to take a normal swing. Probably, if he swings too hard, it will work against him. Just a nice easy swing for him in the zone has a lot more impact. His check swings are more powerful than my full swings. He’s got a quick bat. The key for him is pitch selection. When he gets good pitches, and when they make mistakes, he makes people pay.”

Joe Frisaro

Jose named NL Pitcher of the Month

MIAMI — Twice last year, Jose Fernandez was named National League Rookie of the Month. On Monday, the 21-year-old received his first top overall pitcher monthly honor.

The Marlins ace was named the National League Pitcher of the Month award, following going 4-1 with a 1.59 ERA, including his March 31 Opening Day start.

Fernandez struck out 55 and walked eight in the month.

Sonny Gray was named the American League Pitcher of the Month.

In 2013, Fernandez was NL Rookie of the Month in July and August.

Fernandez carried over his strong pitching into May. On Sunday, he was not involved in the decision, but he struck out 10 and allowed three runs (two earned) in seven innings in a game won, 5-4, by Miami over the Dodgers.

Fernandez, one of the most entertaining players to watch in the game, had some moments interacting Sunday with Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez.

When Fernandez struck out Puig he gave the Dodgers slugger a look, and he did something similar after getting Ramirez on a ground ball comebacker. When Puig singled, it was his turn to showboat a little at Fernandez.

“We had a little talk [Saturday], Puig and I,” Fernandez said. “He told me, ‘If I get you, I’m going to do something with the crowd.’ I said, ‘Alright, but if I strike you out, I’m going to do something.’ It was really friendly. With Hanley, It’s the same thing.”

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly found the little exchanges amusing.

“The cat’s tough,” Mattingly said. “He’s emotional on the mound. Our guys are emotional. It’s fun. I like seeing the matchups. Our guys like facing him.”

Joe Frisaro

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Marlins brush aside sign stealing theory

MIAMI — At home, the Marlins have certainly looked good, really good. Actually, so good that the Braves became suspicious enough to wonder if Miami was stealing signs.

Did Marlins benefit from sign stealing or capitalize on fat pitches?

Did Marlins benefit from sign stealing or capitalize on fat pitches?

The Marlins’ offensive onslaught, especially on Tuesday when they scored nine runs off Aaron Harang, had Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez checking around.

“If you would have taken a look at our dugout at one point in the game, in the fourth or fifth inning when they were hitting balls everywhere, we’ve got three guys looking at the scoreboard and you’ve got two guys looking at their bullpen,” Gonzalez told reporters before Wednesday’s game. “I’m [calling bullpen coach Eddie Perez] saying, ‘Do you see anything?’ I’m looking at [catcher Evan Gattis], thinking maybe he’s tipping his pitches. [Bench coach Carlos Tosca] is looking at their bench, thinking somebody is whistling.”

Entering the series, the Braves starters had simply dominate. But in the series, the Marlins shellshocked the NL East leaders, completing a three-game sweep and scoring 23 runs in the process.

“We haven’t seen that [against our starting pitchers this year],” Gonzalez said. “And then somebody picks up the stats and they say, ‘They are hitting almost 100 points better at home than they are on the road.’ So yeah, you’re always thinking conspiracy theory. But at the end, we came up with nothing.”

Marlins manager Mike Redmond has his own theory on what happened in Miami’s first home series sweep of Atlanta since 2006.

“Just give us a little credit,” Redmond said. “I haven’t heard anything. We’re out there playing the game the right way. Guys are battling, competing. That’s how we’re winning ballgames.”

The fact the Marlins are 12-4 at home and 2-10 on the road has captured plenty of attention.

At home, the Marlins are batting .307 with 99 runs scored, 35 doubles, five triples, 14 homers and 95 RBIs. Away, the club is hitting .215 with 32 runs scored, 10 doubles, one triple, 12 homers and 31 RBIs.

A week ago in Atlanta, the Marlins dropped two of three, and scored four runs in the series. However, the Braves didn’t post many runs either, eight total.

Baseball is a game of adjustments. The way the Marlins look at it, they made the adjustments against Atlanta’s pitchers, while the Braves’ offense was frustrated twice in two weeks by Jose Fernandez and Nathan Eovaldi.

Harang on Wednesday was tagged for nine runs in 4 2/3 innings. The previous week, he allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings, and he struck out 11. The Marlins did get six hits off him that day, but were unable to manufacture little else.

In preparation for their rematch with Harang, the Marlins did their typical review work. They studied video, and came to the conclusion they let Harang off the hook in Atlanta.

The Marlins believed Harang threw roughly 15 pitches at Atlanta that their hitters could have done serious damage, but didn’t. Instead, those pitches were either fouled off, or not hit hard, or even taken for strikes.

The difference on Wednesday is those same mistake pitches were crushed.

Adjustment or sign stealing?

Also with Harang, the veteran posted a 5.40 ERA combined with the Mets and Mariners in 2013. Yet, he came into Wednesday night with an 0.85 ERA. No one on the Marlins accused the veteran right-hander of doctoring the ball in some fashion to gain an edge. Not a whisper. Second time around, Miami locked in, and put up big numbers, raising Harang’s ERA rose to 2.97.

So often it’s about pitch execution, regardless if a hitter knows what it coming.

Take Thursday’s night’s 5-4 Marlins win.

Gattis, for instance, has the Marlins attention. He mashes fastballs. He did so at Atlanta last week, delivering a walk-off, two-run homer and a game-winning, two-run double on fastballs.

At Miami, the Marlins were giving Gattis a steady diet of sliders and off-speed pitches during the series. On Thursday, Henderson Alvarez threw a hanging slider, and Gattis didn’t miss, hitting a home run which put his team in front, 4-3, at the time.

Poorly executed pitch, and a good adjustment by Gattis to staying back on the off-speed mistake.

What can be taken out of the series sweep is the Marlins certainly got the Braves attention.

Atlanta has completely dominated the Marlins since 2004, posting a 115-74 edge. No other team has won that many off Miami in the same time span. So being swept by the Marlins is unfamiliar territory for the perennial NL East power.

For the Marlins, with the Dodgers now in town for three-games, there is little time to get caught up in conspiracy accusations.

“I don’t even think much about it,” Redmond said. “My focus is on our guys and my team and what we’re doing. We just played a great three-game series, and I’m not going to let anything diminish that. We’re going to enjoy that [Thursday], and we’re going to try to beat the Dodgers [Friday].”

Joe Frisaro

Home cooking working for Marlins

MIAMI — Marlins Park may not be the most ideal place to hit a home run, but it certainly has become a nice home field advantage for the Marlins.

In their third season playing in the retractable-roof ballpark, the Marlins seem to have figured out how to make the spacious field work to their advantage.

The Marlins, 11-4 at Marlins Park, have the most home victories in the Majors. Their 94 runs at home also are a league high.

“I think we’re starting to see a comfort level at home,” manager Mike Redmond said.

But on the flip side, they are 2-10 on the road, making them one of the worst away teams entering May.

Maybe things will balance out. Most likely they will. But Miami certainly has a comfort level, and an approach at the plate at home to use the big gaps and open spaces to their advantage. They are even hitting some home runs at home. And Giancarlo Stanton isn’t the only one doing it.

In Wednesday night’s 9-3 rout of the Braves, Marcell Ozuna connected on a three-run shot and Christian Yelich delivered a two-run homer.

The only other team in the Majors with at least 10 wins at home is the Giants (10-5).

But on the road, only the Indians have more than 10 losses. Cleveland is 4-11. The Padres are 6-10.

Joe Frisaro

Turner to get start on Saturday

MIAMI — For the first time since the first week of the season, the Marlins rotation should be at full strength.

Manager Mike Redmond announced Jacob Turner will come off the disabled list and start on Saturday at home against the Dodgers. Tom Koehler will pitch the first game of that series, on Friday. Jose Fernandez falls in line to start on Sunday in the series finale.

Turner opened the season as the No. 4 starter, but he’s made just one start this season. Prior to his second start, which was scheduled to be on April 9 at Washington, Turner sprained his right shoulder while taking batting practice.

Turner made two rehab assignment starts for Class A Jupiter. On Monday, the right-hander threw seven innings, giving up one run while striking out seven. He threw 75 pitches.

In other injury news, Rafael Furcal doesn’t believe his strained right groin is serious. The veteran infielder was returned from his rehab assignment on Sunday after he injured his groin on Friday while playing for Double-A Jacksonville.

Furcal has been on the DL all season with a left hamstring strain.

The 36-year-old is with the big league club in Miami, and he went through baseball activities during batting practice.

Barring any setbacks, Furcal could go back on a rehab assignment this weekend. Chances are he would play at Triple-A New Orleans.

Joe Frisaro

Dobbs designated, Lucas returns from DL

MIAMI — Greg Dobbs, who signed a one-year, $1.7 million extension with the Marlins last season, was designated for assignment on Tuesday afternoon.

The move was made to make roster room for Ed Lucas, who was returned from his rehab assignment and reinstated from the disabled list.

Lucas was set to make the club out of Spring Training, but he suffered a broken left hand after being hit by a pitch four days before the March 31 opener against the Rockies.

Dobbs, 35, initially made the Marlins as a non-roster invitee in 2011, and ever since he provided a left-handed veteran bat off the bench. He was 1-for-13, all as a pinch-hitter, before he was designated.

In his career, Dobbs has 96 career pinch-hits, and he is batting .262 in that role.

Although Dobbs mostly played first and third base, he wasn’t used in the field, limiting the club’s overall options.

Adding Lucas gives the club more versatility, as the 31-year-old can play all the infield spots, as well as some corner outfield. He also is an emergency catcher candidate.

Lucas played in three rehab assignment games with Class A Jupiter, and he was 6-for-14.

Joe Frisaro

Salty receives World Series ring

NEW YORK –- Actually seeing his World Series championship ring was worth a thousand words to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. To the 28-year-old catcher, the photos didn’t do it justice.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia was presented with his World Series ring on Sunday.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia was presented with his World Series ring on Sunday.

“The picture you see on the Internet don’t describe what it looked like when I first saw it,” Saltalamacchia said. “The detail of everything, it’s just amazing.”

Early in the season the Red Sox honored their 2013 World Series championship team at a ring ceremony at Fenway Park. Saltalamacchia, part of the title team, received his ring on Sunday morning.

It was prearranged that Allard Baird, the Red Sox vice president of player personnel, would deliver Saltalamacchia with his ring in New York.

Prior to the Marlins facing the Mets at Citi Field, Baird presented Saltalamacchia with the elaborate ring inscribed with the catcher’s long name, uniform number and the slogans, “B Strong” and “Bearded Brothers.”

“It’s bigger than I thought it was going to be,” Saltalamacchia said. “It’s nice to actually have it in hand. It’s really cool. I knew Allard Baird was going to come in and give it to me.”

The Marlins’ top free agent acquisition, Saltalamacchia is striving the be part of a championship culture in Miami. Receiving his ring puts closer to his ’13 season in Boston.

“It represents everything that we went through the whole year,” the catcher said. “A lot of guys play a long time to get one of these or even make it. So I’m pretty fortunate.”

Joe Frisaro

Furcal suffers right groin injury

NEW YORK — Over the weekend, Marlins’ management is set to make a decision on what the next step is for Rafael Furcal.

They may have received their answer on Friday night.

In a rehab assignment with Double-A Jacksonville, Furcal was replaced due to a right groin injury.

Furcal strained his left hamstring in Spring Training, and he’s been on the disabled list all season. So now, he is dealing with a second ailment.

Still, the setback may not be too severe.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond said on Saturday that Furcal was doing baseball activities on Saturday to see if he can return to game action as early as Sunday.

The 36-year-old is in his second week of his rehab assignment. After one week at Class A Jupiter, he headed to Jacksonville on Monday, and has been playing for the Suns.

On Friday night, Furcal was 2-for-2. He was on first base and sustained the groin strain while running the bases. As a precaution, he was immediately replaced.

By Sunday, the Marlins were to decide if Furcal should spend another week on rehab assignment, or if it was time to bring him to the big league club.

Derek Dietrich and Donovan Solano have been handling most of the second base duties.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins pitchers approaching April mark

NEW YORK — If the Marlins’ staff stays on its recent pace, they could establish a franchise record for strikeouts in April.

In their just completed series at Atlanta, Miami pitchers posted 37 strikeouts in three games, raising their monthly total to 173.

Heading into Friday night at New York, the Marlins have five more games left in April. If they average nine strikeouts per game, they will finish the month with 218. The club mark is 215 set by the 2003 staff.

Even if they fall short of the club mark, they have a chance to become the second team in franchise history to reach 200 strikeouts in April.

For the season, the Marlins have 183 total strikeouts. But the combined 10 they logged on Opening Night came on March 31. Jose Fernandez fanned nine that day.

Most strikeouts in April

2003: 215
2013: 193
2011: 183
2007: 181
2010: 175
1996: 174
2014: 173

Joe Frisaro

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