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The Bad With the Good


         By reaching base five times in six trips to the plate on Saturday, Nick Johnson lived up to his billing. His high on-base percentage was precisely the reason the Marlins traded for him, and he impressed in that area right from the get-go. But his debut was not without blemishes. He failed to cover first on a bunt and was thrown out at third for the final out of the fourth inning when trying to stretch a double into a triple. He was also thrown out on an attempted steal of second on what was likely a missed hit-and-run sign by Emilio Bonifacio.

         But Saturday's loss to the Cubs raises more serious concerns for the Marlins. They are:

         1) Their fifth starter. Who exactly is he? Burke Badenhop? Not after Saturday. He gave up six runs and failed to make it out of the second inning. Badenhop has done well in the long relief role, and he endeared himself to teammates when he drilled the Dodgers' Orlando Hudson last weekend. But it's hard to make a case for him as a starter, and he'll likely return to the bullpen. As the Marlins failed to reel in a starter -- too expensive, they said -- at the trading deadline, they're now forced to reach into the minors to find their fifth guy. Look for Sean West to make a return even though the rookie was sent back to Double A Jacksonville because he lacked command of his secondary pitches.

          2) Their third baseman. Jorge Cantu's return to the hot corner did not go well. Displaced by Johnson at third base, Cantu returned to the other side of the diamond and was charged with a pair of throwing errors on Saturday. Both throws were wide left, and the second of the two ended up costing the Marlins two huge runs in the ninth. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said it's going to be a simple matter of time before Cantu gets it together, and Cantu said he'll start lining up his throws with more practice. But Cantu was no Brooks Robinson at third last season, either, so it'll be interesting to see how the position switch works out in the end.

          3) Their closer. I know Leo Nunez wasn't in a save situation when he entered in the 10th on Saturday. But giving up a leadoff home run to Derrek Lee, then hammering Aramis Ramirez near the elbow with a pitch, wasn't exactly a confidence builder if you're a Marlins fan. Matt Lindstrom is back in the bullpen (he remained there Saturday), but he's being eased back and the ninth inning will belong to Nunez for now. The Marlins engaged the Padres in trade discussions for Heath Bell, but the asking price was too high and they backed out.

         I ran a poll after Friday's trade, one in which about 84 percent of nearly 400 respondents thought that the Marlins made the right move by acquiring Johnson. By far, it was a more popular verdict than the Marlins erring in not trading for a starting pitcher (5.2 percent) or a closer (4.9). Now I wonder if, after analyzing Saturday's loss, opinions have changed any.

        The phone lines are open.....

                                                                                        C.S.

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