Cody Ross will rest his strained right calf once again today, leaving his status for Opening Day in doubt. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Ross could play in a minor league game on Thursday and remains optimistic that the right fielder will be good to go on Monday when the Marlins open the regular season in New York.
But the Marlins are also looking at contingency plans -- what Gonzalez calls "Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D." With Brett Carroll (strained oblique) headed to the disabled list, the Marlins have few options if Ross also goes on the DL, retroactive to March 26. If that happens, the earliest Ross would be available is April 10, meaning he would only miss the first four games of the season. The Marlins could try to get by with Emilio Bonifacio in right. They could bring up Scott Cousins or Jai Miller, who are already on the 40-man roster. They could add Bryan Petersen to the 40-man and put him in right. The least likely scenario, as tantalizing as it sounds, would be to go ahead and give Mike Stanton a shot. He, too, would need to be added to the 40-man roster, which has only two available openings at present. The Marlins are already faced with the difficult task of finding room on their 40-man roster for pitchers Jose Veras and Clay Hensley, and very possibly Brian Barden and Mike Lamb.
On a separate front, Gonzalez said Nate Robertson, who was obtained on Tuesday in a trade with the Detroit Tigers, would be slotted into the fifth spot in the rotation. He'll pitch Thursday when the Marlins close out their Grapefruit League schedule.against the Cardinals and make his first regular season start on April 10 against the Dodgers at home. Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez will start the three games in New York. Chris Volstad will pitch the home opener on April 9.
-- Wes Helms, who returned home to Alabama a couple of days ago to tend to a personal matter, is expected back for today's game in Port St. Lucie.
-- Today's lineup: Chris Coghlan, lf; Cameron Maybin, cf; Hanley Ramirez, ss; Lamb, 3b; John Baker, c; Donnie Murphy, 2b; Gaby Sanchez, 1b; Petersen, rf; Johnson.
A lot happened on the Marlins pitching front on Tuesday, with the end result being that the staff now appears set -- from the starting rotation to the bullpen.
Seth McClung was released. Nate Robertson was obtained in a trade. Clay Hensley was assigned to the bullpen. And relievers Tim Wood and Rick VandenHurk were optioned to Triple A New Orleans.
So here's how the staff looks:
1. Josh Johnson, 2. Ricky Nolasco, 3. Anibal Sanchez, 4. Chris Volstad; 5. Robertson.
Leo Nunez, Brian Sanches, Renyel Pinto, Dan Meyer, Jose Veras, Burke Badenhop, and Hensley.
Meanwhile, there remain a few lingering questions with the rest of the roster. Cody Ross is not healing very quickly from a calf injury, leading to concern he might not be able to go for the season opener on Monday. Ross was supposed to play in a minor-league game on Tuesday but, instead, was sent home early.
"I'm not going to lie to you," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "It's concerning."
If Ross goes on the DL, the Marlins' backup options are limited, as Brett Carroll is also out with a strained oblique and wouldn't be available. Emilio Bonifacio and Brian Barden have played outfield, but not as their primary position. The Marlins could turn to Bryan Petersen, who went 2 for 3 on Tuesday to raise his average this spring to .295. Petersen spent all last season at Double A Jacksonville, where he hit .297.
Barden and the lefty-swinging Mike Lamb appear to be frontrunners for bench jobs, along with Bonifacio, Wes Helms and the backup catcher. Barden is hitting .342 while Lamb is at .393.
Remember Nate Robertson, the bespectacled southpaw who began his pitching career with the Marlins in 2002 before being traded to the Detroit Tigers? In that deal, the Marlins hooked a key contributor to their 2003 World Series run -- left-hander Mark Redman, a 14-game winner for them that season.
Today comes news that the Marlins re-acquired Robertson, landing him in a trade with Detroit for minor-league pitcher Jay Voss. The Tigers will absorb most of Robertson's $10 million salary.
Robertson gives the Marlins something they were lacking in their rotation -- a left-handed arm -- and brings veteran experience, something else they were short on. Robertson, 32, was an innings-eater for Detroit, giving them 196 innings in 2004, 196 in '05, 208 in '06, 177 in '07 and 168 in '08. He also made three postseason starts for the Tigers in 2006.
Robertson totaled just 49 innings last season with the Tigers and had surgery on his left arm in June. But Larry Beinfest, the Marlins' president of baseball operations, said the Marlins are convinced that Robertson is healthy after examining his medical records and watching him pitch this spring.
Robertson has appeared in six games this spring for the Tigers, three of them starts, and has gone 2-1 with a 3.66 ERA. He was battling for a spot in the rotation.
The trade changes the complexion of the Marlins' rotation and bullpen. Just when it appeared that Clay Hensley had earned the fifth spot in the rotation with an outstanding spring, he gets bounced to the bullpen by Robertson. Beinfest said Hensley "will make the team," likely as a long reliever. And with Hensley going to the pen, Rick VandenHurk and Tim Wood are probably headed for Triple A New Orleans. (In fact, they were optioned to New Orleans late Tuesday afternoon).
The Marlins released Seth McClung this morning, which ruins any thoughts of his staging a "Bullpen Olympics" in South Florida this summer as he once did in Milwaukee with the Brewers. Oh well.
So that leaves just two internal candidates for the bullpen: right-handers Tim Wood and Rick VandenHurk. Wood, obviously, has done it before. For VandenHurk, though, coming out of the pen would be a new role, one that manager Fredi Gonzalez said he believes the Dutch hurler can handle.
VandenHurk came out of the pen the other day to throw one inning of scoreless relief against the Houston Astros and noticed that his fastball was blazing -- 3 to 4 miles per hour greater than it usually is when he starts. VandenHurk also provides the bullpen with an extra long man to go with Burke Badenhop.
"I think he could be valuable to us in that role, a second long guy, if you want to label him that," Gonzalez said of VandenHurk. "You may see better stuff from him at that (one) inning stint. Usually that's what happens. Starters, you ask them to convert to the bullpen, and their miles per hours go three to four more because they're just coming in blowing. They're not going to come in and try to set the slider with the change-up. They're just going to come in and blow. And we saw that the other day against Houston here."
-- Cameron Maybin is back in the lineup today after being taken out in the third inning on Monday due to tightness in his groin. Hanley Ramirez gets the day off.
-- Sean West will likely start the season on the disabled list for Triple A New Orleans due to a bad back. The Marlins think it'll be two to three weeks before West, who was sent down after he experienced control issues early in spring training, can get back on the mound for N.O.
Cameron Maybin woke up with tightness in his groin. But that didn't prevent him from robbing Mets third baseman David Wright of a home run on Monday in Port St. Lucie. Maybin leaped up, stuck his wrist over the wall in center, and came down with the ball in his glove for the third out of the first inning.
"That was my first one ever," Maybin said. "I never robbed a home run before after all of those years I've played the outfield."
Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez wasn't sure Maybin caught the ball, and thought for a moment that he might be trying to pull a fast one on the umps by pretending he had a ball he never caught as he ran to the dugout. Maybin said word around camp was a Mets player go away with that trick a couple of weeks ago in a Marlins minor-league game.
"Did he catch it? Did he catch it?" Gonzalez said he thought to himself after watching Maybin's leaping performance on Wright. "Is he smart enough to not tell the umpire?"
But the first base ump was no dummy and asked to see the ball as Maybin jogged past.
Maybin didn't remain in the game long, as he was lifted for a pinch-runner after reaching third base in the third inning. Gonzalez said it was precautionary -- "no big deal." Maybin said he woke up Monday feeling tightness in the groin area, and the manager didn't want to take any chances with his center fielder on the wet field.
Gonzalez said Maybin would be able to play Tuesday.
The Marlins reassigned Logan Morrison to minor league camp this morning, which makes certain what has been pretty much a given for more than a week: Gaby Sanchez will be the Marlins' first baseman.
Statistically, it was a no-brainer.
Sanchez has hit .409 this spring (compared to .244 for Morrison), to go with a .460 on-base percentage and .659 slugging percentage. Add that up, and it comes to a very nice OPS of 1.119 -- best on the club this spring among players with at least 30 at bats.
The Marlins also reassigned right-handed reliever Scott Strickland to minor league camp, leaving 33 players on the spring training roster. That means eight more cuts need to be made to get to the 25-man roster for Opening Day.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez will likely bat Sanchez in the eighth spot.
The bullpen picture remains fuzzy, with a handful of contenders vying for basically one spot. The cast of hopefuls includes Tim Wood, Rick VandenHurk, Seth McClung and Hayden Penn. Just a hunch, but I think it comes down to Wood and VandenHurk, who quietly pitched a scoreless ninth inning Sunday against the Astros.
Josh Johnson was feeling a bit better on Saturday, one day after being scratched from his scheduled start against the Mets due to a stomach virus. How the illness impacts his Opening Day start remains to be seen.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Johnson might throw a side session on Monday and, if all goes well, make his next start on Wednesday against the Mets. That would still enable him to pitch the season opener in New York on April 5. If Johnson remains under the weather and can't pitch Wednesday, it's likely Ricky Nolasco would receive the Opening Day nod, with Johnson pitching the second game of the season -- two days later.
The upset stomach thing has worked its way through the Marlins clubhouse the past couple of weeks, and two days has been the typical recovery time. John Baker, Jorge Cantu, third base coach Joe Espada and Gonzalez's son, Alex, have also come down with the virus.
Other news on a slow morning:
-- Outfielder Cody Ross will DH and bat first each inning in a minor league game this afternoon. Ross has been out with a calf injury.
-- Gonzalez said he'll wait until at least Monday before announcing his starting rotation, which is expected to consist of Johnson, Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad and Clay Hensley. Hensley will be on the mound today for his first start of spring training and is expected to go five innings. Leo Nunez will also see action and throw two innings.
Andrew Miller was demoted to Triple A New Orleans this morning while Josh Johnson was sent home with the flu. Though unrelated, the two developments impact the Marlins' rotation plans. Miller won't be in it and there's an outside chance Johnson won't be the Opening Day starter depending on how long it takes him to get over his illness.
But let's start first with Miller. The decision to send the tall lefty down to the minors didn't exactly come as a tremendous surprise. He has not pitched well enough this spring, or consistent enough at any time in his brief, big-league career, to warrant one of the five spots in the rotation. And Miller knows it.
"Obviously, it's been frustrating," Miller said of his wildly erratic career so far. "I want to figure it out as soon as I can. It's a game of making adjustments and figuring things out. I realize I'm still only 24 years old right now, and I think there's still plenty of time to figure it out. I'd like to think nobody can question my effort as far as making adjustments and figuring it out. it's just one of those things that hasn't come easy for me."
High expecations have always shadowed Miller, who was a first-round draft pick for the Detroit Tigers and a key figure in the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis trade. He has gone 14-21 with a 5.50 ERA in the majors -- hardly glowing numbers for someone of his stature.
"Once they put that uniform on, for me, it doesn't matter whether they're a No. 1 pick, or iif it's a blockbuster trade that we traded somebody for Babe Ruth," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "They're major league baseball players and we evaluate them under those circumstances."
With Miller officially out of the picture on the major league side, the Marlins rotation is all but set, with Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad and Clay Hensley expected to hold down the five spots. Hensley, the biggest surprise of the spring for the Marlins, will make his first spring training start on Saturday. Rick VandenHurk and Hayden Penn are only marginal starting candidates at this point.
Question is, who will start the April 4 season opener in New York? Johnson is still that guy, but his illness could change those plans. If he doesn't get well soon, there's a chance Johnson could get pushed back and Nolasco take his place at the front end of the rotation.
"If it takes him three days like it's done everybody else (who has been sick this spring), we might have to do something there," Gonzalez said of the opener. "But let's not get ahead of ourselves."
FORT MYERS -- It sounds like the perfect storybook ending: after winning a World Series in the town you grew up in, moving on and winning another with one of the most famous organizations in sports, you return home and finish out your career in front of family and friends.
Even Mike Lowell -- whose name has been linked in trade rumors to the Marlins since last week -- admits it sounds good. But at this point, the likelihood Lowell will be rewarded with such a scenario appears to be minimal.
Although a Marlins source told El Nuevo Herald's Jorge Ebro Wednesday that the club is interested in reacquiring the corner infielder who won a ring with them in 2003, a combination of factors make the reality of Lowell's return home unlikely.
For starters, first baseman Gaby Sanchez has had a good spring (he's hitting .382). Secondly, the Marlins already have a veteran corner infielder in Wes Helms who is fulfilling the role Lowell would provide if acquired. Lastly, a National League scout told Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald Wednesday that Lowell's mobility 17 months after hip surgery still isn't where it needs to be.
Still, that doesn't mean Marlins fans -- and Lowell, now 36 -- can't dream.
"I know the story sounds good I just don’t know if it works, since it's not my call," Lowell said. "Honestly, I have never seen Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison swing a bat. I haven’t seen [Jorge] Cantu play in three years. There’s no DH in the National League. I don’t know if that’s going to work. If I was traded to another team I would definitely evaluate it. Obviously it's human nature to think about things.
"Trust me, I've had a lot of people calling, ‘Did you read the Marlins article?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I’m in Fort Myers, I don’t get The Herald or The Post. I know there are a lot of people who see the feel-goodness of coming back home and all that. But I look at is as Miami is going to be my home anyways, whether I’m playing for the Marlins or not. I’d love to be a part of watching that team get better, whether I’m playing or not."
Since Lowell left the Marlins in November 2005 with Josh Beckett in the trade that netted Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez, Lowell has managed to remain a consistent run producer, driving in at least 73 runs with 17 home runs each of the last four seasons. In 2007, he hit .324 with 21 home runs and 120 RBI. But with the Red Sox looking to move forward with other players, he's found himself this spring amid trade rumors and likely headed toward a season on the bench if he isn't shipped off.
Healthwise, Lowell said he actually feels better than he did a year ago when he played in 119 games, hit .290 with 17 homers and 75 RBI coming back from hip surgery. But so far this spring, he is just 1 for 10 in four games coming off thumb surgery. The Red Sox are playing him almost exclusively at first base, though Lowell maintains he still has "the quick step" needed to play third.
"I can do everything except basically run the way I did two years ago," Lowell said. "But with that being said, I think I'm running better than I did last year. I was never fast to start. If there's going to be something I lose out on, it might as well be that. I don't think my defense [has been affected]. If anything, I feel like I'm playing much better defense than last year because I don't feel any pain because of the surgery on those quick first steps playing the corner. So, in that sense, I'm very encouraged. My thumb's fine. If I take 75 to 100 swings it gets a little tired. After the first two weeks of the spring, I think you just have to build the endurance. I think the thumb thing was just a formality. It's not something I have to rehab for four months to get to."
Still, the likelihood Lowell gets off the bench for the Red Sox appears slim. Manager Terry Francona said Wednesday he's trying to get Lowell as much work as possible "without interrupting anybody else." Lowell said he's well aware he might not play much this season. He's just not sure if he's ready for it.
"For me to have significant playing time, somebody either needs to get hurt or do really bad. I'm really not wishing that on anyone. That's kind of bad karma anyway," Lowell said. "I'd rather have playing time based on whether I deserve it or not. I think that's the thing that's made it a little bit different in that I do feel like I'm better than last year. Last year, I really had to grind out the at-bats and grind out the games. But I still feel like for the games I played, I put up satisfactory numbers. I'm looking at maybe a quarter of that all year if everything stays status quo.
"That's the pill that's hard to swallow because I was looking to improve not to backtrack. I don't feel like I backtracked in my abilities. I think I'm healthier than I was last year. I'm just preparing myself because I don't know what's going to happen. I have no idea what people are thinking behind closed doors in the organization. I just prepare myself the same way and go about my business."
FORT MYERS -- With only eight Grapefruit League games left and time winding down this spring, manager Fredi Gonzalez said Thursday morning he'd like to have the two remaining openings in his starting rotation "cleared up" by the end of the week.
That means Thursday's start against the Red Sox for Chris Volstad will be huge. If he pitches well, Volstad will probably cement a spot in the rotation. But if he struggles again, he could open the door for a few others.
The 23-year old right-hander pitched well in his last start against the Nationals Saturday, walking two, scattering six hits and giving up just one earned run over five innings. But one good start out of five won't make Gonzalez or anybody in management feel good heading into the season.
"He just needs to continue to do what he did against Washington and that's throw his sinker down in the strikezone and stick with that pitch," catcher John Baker said Wednesday. "That's what he did in 2008 when he got into trouble. He threw the ball in the middle of the plate and looked for ground balls. He needs to do the same thing, trust himself and trust his ability. If he does that, he's going to throw five innings and give up one run like he did the other day."
Rick VandenHurk is scheduled to "piggy-back" Volstad for a couple innings Thursday and at this point is likely third among the four players still competing for the final two spots in the rotation. Right-hander Clay Hensley, most believe, is currently in second when you consider he and not left-hander Andrew Miller will get the start Saturday in the big league game against the Cardinals in Jupiter.
Hensley hasn't given up an earned run or walked anybody in 10 1/3 innings and has retired 32 of the 37 batters faced. But he hasn't started either. Miller (1-1, 7.04 ERA) will start the Triple A game Saturday on the backfields at Roger Dean Stadium.
> ROSS STILL NOT READY: When outfielder Cody Ross left Tuesday's game against the Orioles with cramps in his right calf, Gonzalez didn't expect him to miss much time at all. But as it turns out, Ross still isn't even running. Ross said he's simply being cautious and he would be in the lineup if it was the regular season. But considering he's missed time because of a jammed thumb and a groin strain, he said he's considering asking for a few at-bats in Triple A. Ross is 4 for 22 this spring (.182).
"I definitely need to get out there and I need to play," Ross said. "It's frustrating these little nagging things. These are things if it was the season, I'd be out there. But I don't want to keep aggravating it. So, we're being cautious."
> CARROLL INJURY UPDATE: Outfielder Brett Carroll, who left Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Twins with a strained left oblique, said he woke up Thursday feeling better than he was expecting. At this point, Gonzalez is guessing Carroll will be out at least a week.
The timing obviously couldn't be worse for Carroll considering he was trying to compete with Brian Barden, Donnie Murphy and Mike Lamb for the final spots on the bench. "I just want to take the right steps," Carroll said. "As eager as I am to put it behind me and get back out there because I know it's an important time, I have to be patient with it."