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52 posts from May 2010

May 14, 2010

Cantu Takes a Break


    That 21-game hitting streak by Jorge Cantu is starting to gather dust as the third baseman for the Marlins currently finds himself in a May malaise, not that he or anyone else ever expected him to threaten Joe DiMaggio. Cantu, who has gone 6 for 45 for the month, finds himself watching from the bench tonight when the Marlins take on the Mets in the second game of their four-game series.

    "Just a little bump in the road," Cantu said of his slump. "I wasn't going to hit like that (April) for six straight months."

    Cantu said he remains comfortable at the plate and hasn't seen the usual signs that would indicate it's "time to hit the panic button." Cantu said those indicators are an increase in his number of strikeouts and easy roll outs to the left side of the infield. The Marlins' cleanup hitter said three potential home runs have been batted down by the wind over the past week in D.C., Chicago and at home Thursday when his long fly ball leading off the ninth inning was caught not far from the wall by Mets left fielder Jason Bay.

   Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he felt that, with the Marlins midway through a stretch of 20 straight games, it was time to give Cantu a day, just as he did Thursday night with Dan Uggla. Wes Helms gets the start at third base tonight while Uggla will bat clean-up

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  After playing in just four games for Triple A New Orleans, Doug Mientkiewicz tells the Marlins no thanks and opted for his release one day before his 10-day contract was due to expire. "Apparently Mientkiewicz, 35, saw the writing on the wall and decided to call it quits a day early," writes the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

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    Marlins: 1. Chris Coghlan, lf; 2. Gaby Sanchez, 1b; 3. Hanley Ramirez, ss; 4. Dan Uggla, 2b; 5. Cody Ross, rf; 6. Wes Helms, 3b; 7. Ronny Paulino, c; 8. Cameron Maybin, cf; 9. Anibal Sanchez, rhp.

Mets: 1. Angel Pagan, cf; 2. Luis Castillo, 2b; 3. Jose Reyes, ss; 4. Jason Bay, lf; 5. David Wright, 3b; 6. Ike Davis, 1b; 7. Jeff Francouer, rf; 8. Rod Barajas, c; 9. Oliver Perez, p.

   

May 13, 2010

Marlins Suspected Phillies of Stealing Signs


   The Marlins suspected the Phillies of stealing signs long before the Philadelphia bullpen coach was caught gazing through binoculars at Coors Field earlier in the week, which has led to a reprimand from Major League Baseball.

   "We've always had our suspicions," said Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez.

    Gonzalez said that the way the tiered bullpens are configured in Philadelphia, with one on top of the other behind the center field wall, their suspicions reached a point last season where bullpen coach Steve Foster and bullpen catcher Pierre Arsenault looked over the top and inside the Phillies pen to make sure they weren't stealing signs from that vantage point.

   "We never caught anybody," Gonzalez said. "But we had our suspicions. It's so easy. It's so tempting."

   Interestingly, the Marlins went 7-2 in Philadelphia last season.

   Catcher John Baker said suspicions that the Phillies were stealing signs started in 2008.

   "Some of their guys took some strange swings at some pitches that went against the scouting report, that were really surprising," Baker said. "(Former pitching coach) Mark Wiley and I had a sense that they knew what was coming that pitch, even when there was nobody on second base. It could have been great hitting and they guessed right."

   Baker said the Marlins became "proactive" and started having their catchers give "multiple sign sequences" even when no Phillies were on base. Marlins catcher Ronny Paulino said, while watching the playoffs last season, he noticed Dodgers catchers employing the same strategy -- even when no runners were on base -- when they faced the Phillies.

   "Yeah, we suspected them," Baker said. "Instead of saying, 'You guys are cheaters, let's call them out,' we started giving multiple signs earlier in the game. We would do that with nobody on."

   But Baker said he doesn't have a problem with trying to steal signs, whether the Phillies were using binoculars or not. (The Phillies have denied any such wrongdoing).

   "I don't find it so egregious," Baker said. "This game is about winning. Until you get caught, I don't see what the problem is. We figured they were doing it and we adjusted accordingly. If you think somebody's doing something, you've got to do something about it. There's two ways to go about it. You can call them out or you can take action yourself."

  Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was shown looking through binoculars by FSN Rocky Mountain during the Rockies series earlier in the week. The cameras showed Billmeyer peering through the binoculars while Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo was behind the plate and the Phillies were batting in the top of the second inning.

   Cameras also caught a glimpse of Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino on the bullpen phone that inning.

   "We were not trying to steal signs," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told the Associated Press. "Would we try to steal somebody's signs? Yeah, if we can. But we don't do that. We're not going to let a guy stand up there in the bullpen with binoculars looking in. We're smarter than that."

    MARLINS CALL UP BRETT HAYES.....With three left-handers scheduled to take the mound for the Mets this series, the Marlins called up catcher Brett Hayes and optioned outfielder Bryan Petersen back to Triple A New Orleans. Since Paulino will likely be starting three games, the move allows the Marlins to use Baker off the bench as a pinch-hitter against right-handers and have Hayes in reserve as a back-up catcher.....Brian Barden is receiving a rare start tonight in place of second baseman Dan Uggla. Gonzalez said he wanted to get Barden some at bats. Also, Uggla is 1 for 19 in his career against tonight's starter for the Mets, Johan Santana.

LINEUPS:

    Marlins: 1. Chris Coghlan, lf; 2. Brian Barden, 2b; 3. Hanley Ramirez, ss; 4. Jorge Cantu, 3b; 5. Cody Ross, cf; 6. Ronny Paulino, c; 7. Gaby Sanchez, 1b; 8. Brett Carroll, rf; 9. Josh Johnson, rhp.

    Mets: 1. Angel Pagan, cf; 2. Luis Castillo, 2b; 3. Jose Reyes, ss; 4. Jason Bay, lf; 5. David Wright, 3b; 6. Ike Davis, 1b; 7. Jeff Francoeur, rf; 8. Rod Barajas, c; 9. Johan Santana, lhp.

May 12, 2010

After Cubbies, Johan Santana awaits Marlins

CHICAGO -- The Marlins will try to leave Wrigley Field this afternoon having accomplished two things they have yet to do this season: sweep an opponent and a three-game winning streak.

If there is a team the Marlins can do it against, it's the Cubs (14-20). Marlins ace Josh Johnson said before Wednesday's game he feels like the team could be on the verge of putting together a bit of a winning streak. If you remember, the Marlins started 11-1 last year before the wheels came off. After losing eight of 11 coming into this series, Johnson feels like the momentum start swinging in the other direction.

"For a couple weeks there, it felt like nothing could go right for us," Johnson said. "You had game-saving catches, big home runs. The last couple games, that has kind of gone away. Before that, we hadn't really been consistent enough as a whole team to get to the point where we could win four, five in a row. But I can definitely see us getting to the point where we could now."

To keep the good times rolling, Johnson will have to do something very few Marlins have -- beat Johan Santana on Thursday. Santana is 6-1 with a 1.66 ERA versus the Marlins in eight career starts. He beat Johnson and the Marlins on Opening Day, becoming the first of four Cy Young winners to beat the Fish this season in four tries.

"I just have to try and get deeper in the game because you know there is a 99.9 percent chance he is going to get six, seven, eight innings in," Johnson said of facing Santana. "That is just how good a pitcher he is. As an opposing starter pitcher you have to go as deep as possible and try to match him."

There aren't many Marlins who have had much success against Santana. Jorge Cantu (7 for 27), Chris Coghlan (1 for 3) and Gaby Sanchez (1 for 2) are the only Marlins who have better than .250 batting averages against him. Hanley Ramirez (.167), Cody Ross (.167), Wes Helms (.176) have just three hits against Santana lifetime. Dan Uggla is just 1 for 19.

LEROUX LEARNING THE HARD WAY... Before the season, Chris Leroux had only five games of major league seasoning coming out of the bullpen for the Marlins. But the 26-year old Canadian-born right-hander is loading up on tough experiences this year.

Tuesday night against the Cubs, he put himself in arguably the most difficult situation of the season -- and survived. With the Marlins up 3-1, Leroux gave up two hits, walked one and had the tying and winning runs standing on second and third base with Aramis Ramirez up and two outs in the eighth inning. After an eight-pitch battle, he finally got Ramirez to swing and miss at a high fastball on a 3-2 count to end the inning.

Leroux, who pumped his first as he bounced off the mound, caught some good-natured heckling from teammates after the game for celebrating like Yankees pitcher Jaba Chamberlain. He also received some compliments from catcher John Baker and manager Fredi Gonzalez for getting out of the mess.

"The other day in Washington we brought him in with first and secodn and he got a big double play to get Sanchez off the hook," Gonzalez said. "We're throwing him in situation, when he's successful, you hope he builds on tht stuf and keeps going forward.

"He's got a big arm, throws 93, 94 miles per hour with a big sinker and a nice changeup."

MAYBIN SAYS WRIST IS FINE... Outfielder Cameron Maybin found out there was a brick wall behind the ivy when he made a running catch against it Tuesday. Maybin jammed his right wrist on the play, but remained in the game. 

After Tuesday's game, he said the wrist was fine. "Nothing a little ice can't fix," Maybin said. 

Gonzalez didn't put Maybin in the lineup Wednesday, but said it wasn't because of the wrist. "As far as I know, he's fine," Gonzalez said. "The trainers didn't mention it at all this morning."

May 11, 2010

Is Leo Nunez on his way to becoming a shut-down closer?

CHICAGO -- There was a time last season when opposing hitters actually knew what Leo Nunez was going to be throwing them. They're looking a little more lost these days.

For the second time in as many nights, the Marlins closer put the finishing touches on a victory by retiring the side in order in the ninth for a save. It may not seem like much, but Nunez is now for seven for nine on the season (77.7 percent). That's not necessarily a better average than what he did last year when he was 26 of 33 (78.7 percent). 

But he is pitching better and not getting jumped on as often as he did a year ago for big home runs. Nunez has only allowed four hits to the 48 batters he's faced this season, the best batting average against in the majors (.087). And he's only walked five. 

Marlins pitching coach Randy St. Claire talked a little about Nunez before Tuesday's 3-2 win and believes he could be on his way to becoming a shut-down closer.

"He's been attacking the strikezone. His walks are way down. Except for the walks in New York, he's maybe walked two guys. He's being aggressive. That's a key to success," St. Claire siad. "If you're ahead of the hitters in the zone, they start chasing pitches out of the zone. If you're behind, they don't swing at those pitches that are borderline because those aren't the pitches they want to hit because maybe they're balls.

"To be a shut-down closer, you have to show people you're consistent. Time in and time out, you get the job done. That takes time. I think he's on his way. But he has to do that through the whole season and throw up 45 saves. That's when people say he's there. Then, do it another year and the next year. Then, you get that closer type of [reputation]."

Catcher John Baker said Nunez has been effective because of the addition of his slider. "He's keeping guys off balance," Baker said. "I think last year, guys could jus so one kind of speed and now he has three speeds going. That, and he's getting ahead of hitters."

> Of course, Nunez wasn't the only Marlins hero Tuesday. Ricky Nolasco rebounded from back-to-back losses with seven strong innings of five-hit ball. It was the 10th consecutive outing by a Marlins starter without giving up three runs and the 20th quality start on the season. The Marlins came in tied for 6th in baseball in quality starts and the fifth-lowest ERA by starters in the National League. Nolasco brought it down to 3.91.

> FOR POST GAME SOUND FROM TUESDAY FROM THE CLUBHOUSE, CLICK ON THE MARLINS AUDIO LINK.

First pitch strikes key to starters success

CHICAGO -- If there was one thing new pitching coach Randy St. Claire wanted to establish with Marlins starters this season it was to have them "attack the strike zone more." Although the season might not be very old, it seems St. Claire has gotten his message across.

Entering Tuesday night's game at Wrigley, Marlins starters have not allowed more than three runs in each of their last nine starts, going 4-2 with a 3.07 ERA. If there's a reason for the success, according to St. Claire, it's the fact his guys are getting ahead in the strike zone. A look inside the numbers, supports St. Claire's philosophy.

This season, four of the Marlins five starters have thrown first pitch strikes at least at a 60 percent clip. Last season, only Josh Johnson (63) and Ricky Nolasco (61) were over 60. This season, Chris Volstad (60 percent) and Anibal Sanchez (67) have joined Johnson (62) and Nolasco (61). Nate Robertson, the Marlins' only left-hander in the starting rotation, is at 57 percent.

"They've been all doing a pretty good job getting ahead of the hitters as a group," St. Claire said. "To me, that's a key to me to be able to go deep into games. When you're ahead of hitters, they have to put the ball in play and are more aggressive with the strike zone because they have to be. You use less pitches. When your behind in the count, you're using 5-6 pitches an at-bat instead of less than three. If you're ahead of hitters you use less pitches, so you go deeper into the game."

That's been exactly the case. Last season, Marlins starters averaged 5.6 innings and 92 pitches a start. This season, they are averaging six innings and 98 pitches. In turn, they're quality starts are up from 46 percent a year ago to 59 percent (19 in 32 games) this season. Volstad and Sanchez are the two biggest examples. Volstad averaged 5.5 innings and 89 pitches per start last year and is now up to 6.6 innings and 96 pitchers per start this season. Sanchez went up from 5.4 innings and 92 pitchers to 5.9 innings and 96 per start this season.

VOLSTAD BACK IN A GROOVE... Even though his numbers are popping off the page, Volstad (3-2, 4.12 ERA) is obviously a much improved pitcher this season. Take out his one bad start in Colorado on April 25 (7 runs in 4 1/3 innings), and Volstad’s record is 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA.

The 23-year old's WHIP has dropped from 1.434 to 1.068 and opponents, who hit .278 against him last year with 29 home runs, are hitting .207 against him this season with only four homers.

"I've been using all my pitches, I think that's the biggest thing," Volstad said. "Adding that slider has been big for me. It's something else for that hitter to be thinking about... another big difference is I've just decided I just have to attack the hitters and not worry about making my stuff too nasty, hitting corners, just go right after them and let my stuff work."

Volstad said he's pumped about making his 50th career start Wednesday at Wrigley. He 0-0 with a 2.81 ERA against the Cubs all-time and has an ERA of 2.77 in two previous starts in Chicago.

"I love this place. This is baseball. Wrigley Field, it's awesome," Volstad said. "I like the atmosphere here. Hopefully, it warms up for the day game tomorrow."

The only problem with Wrigley for Volstad? Walking around the innards of the stadium. At 6-8, 232 pounds, he often has to watch his head ducking under doorways and hallways.

"I can't get too excited in the dugout either," Volstad said. "If I jump up on a hard hit ball, I'll crush my head on the [dugout overhang]. It happened to me at Fenway. These parks are pretty similar. Small clubhouse, small walkways, small overhangs. I guess pitchers weren't 6-8 back then."

Steal of home was "roll of the dice"

CHICAGO -- Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez isn't one to reveal many trade secrets. So when asked about the Marlins' double steal in the seventh inning of Monday's come-from-behind win against the Cubs on Tuesday afternoon, Gonzalez made sure his answer was short and sweet.

"We rolled the dice," Gonzalez said with a chuckle. 

Truth is there obviously was more game-planning put into Cody Ross' game-changing steal of home and the Marlins simply don't want to tip their hand. Either way, the play was rare and provided a huge lift for the club. Nobody seemed to be more relieved about it a day later than rookie first baseman Gaby Sanchez.

The former University of Miami standout was responsible for the routine pop-up turned basehit off the bat of Aramis Ramirez which fell right behind the mound in the sixth inning and the Cubs used to retake the lead.

Sanchez, who had never played at Wrigley before Monday, said he felt terrible about the gaff. "It was just one of those situations where once it started drifting, I didn't want to keep going after it just in case there was somebody there -- in case they were trying to catch it," Sanchez said. "It was just a tough ball."

"I think all of us in the infield in that situation were thinking the same thing, we shouldn't have let it happen. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to come back, score a couple runs and win that ball game."

Sanchez then started to talk about how the Marlins had been practicing the double steal since spring training. But before he got into the good stuff, Ross, a few lockers away, made sure to shush the rookie up. "Don't be giving our plays away man," Ross said with a smile.

MARLINS STEALS RARE THESE DAYS... Monday's four stolen bases marked the first time since a 10-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Sept. 15, 2007 that the Marlins stole more than three bases in a game.

The Fish swiped five against the Rockies on that day, but have since managed to steal three bases only three times in each of the past two seasons.

"I just think that's not the nature of our club," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We are not built to steal bases, which I like to do at times. You look through our lineup we probably have two legit stolen base guys. [Cameron] Maybin, [Hanley] Ramirez and [Chris] Coghlan."

The Marlins entered the Cubs series with only 10 steals on the season, tied with the Phillies for fewest in the National League. Last season, they swiped 75 as a team one fewer than in 2008. The last time they stole more than 100 was in 2007 when Ramirez had 51 of the team's 105 steals.

Ramirez, who moved to the No. 3 spot in the order last season, has been the Marlins primary base stealer in each of the past five season. But as he's become a more dangerous hitter, his stolen base attempts have gone down. And that's fine with Gonzalez.

"I'd rather him win the batting title every year than be the stolen base king," he said ."I want him to win the batting title and drive in 100."

Gonzalez said he thinks stolen bases are a misleading stat. He said he prefers to flash the green light when a steal is needed.

"Some guys steal 40, 45 bases and 25 are meaningless," Gonzalez said. "For me, steal the bag when you have to steal a bag. Two outs in the ninth inning or in a tie game or one out in the ninth inning of a tie game, to me that's when stolen bases count more."

May 10, 2010

Could Cody's steal be the spark the Marlins need?

CHICAGO -- Lost amid the offensive struggles this season has been the fact the Marlins haven't been productive at stealing bases. They came into Monday's game with only 10 swipes on the season, one more than the Baltimore Orioles who ranked last in baseball with nine. 

Monday night, though, the Fish made up for their lack of speed in a big way. They swiped four bases -- including Cody Ross' steal of home -- to manufacture offense late in a 4-2 come-from-behind win over the Cubs. Ross became the first Marlin to swipe home since Reggie Abercrombie did it at Yankee Stadium on June 25, 2006. The steal of home was only the ninth in team history. And it could end up providing a lift in more than just one game.

"Maybe it was the little spark we needed," said Ross, whose two steals Monday were his first two steals of the season and first since Sept. 10 of last year. "... It's something maybe we needed. We've been playing bad lately. It was a good win for us."

After sneaking into home just in front of catcher Geovany Soto's tag, Ross hopped up and slammed his hands together. It set of a pretty big celebration on the Marlins' bench and a lot of "hard hand-slapping" according to Ross.

Let's see if it carries over to Tuesday. The Marlins haven't scored a run in the first five innings of their last seven games and have fallen behind in their last 10. 

> HERE IS A LINK TO SOME MARLINS POSTGAME AUDIO

Fredi Gonzalez wants defense to improve

CHICAGO -- Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez spent a few minutes Monday discussing his team's defense -- or lack of it. The Marlins have committed 30 errors this season, tops in the majors.

Gonzalez said he would like for his team to be a top five defense in the National League. When asked about how his team could potentially become a top five defense, Gonzalez chuckled.

"I think that's a trick question," Gonzalez said. "You know the answer. You know the direction. Two years ago when Tampa Bay went to the World Series they went out and said we have to improve defense. They went and got [Evan] Longoria. They got [Jason] Bartlett. They moved [B.J.] Upton to center. Carlos Pena has always been a terrific defender. The Red Sox did the same thing. They talked about more defense. They went out and got [Adrian] Beltre, [Marco] Scutaro, [Mike] Cameron. Am I leaning you in the right direction now?"

Gonzalez said he doesn't have a problem with his players making "aggressive errors," It is the mental errors that eats at him.

"It's the careless errors that really drive you crazy," Gonzalez said. "If you go backhand in the hole, you try to make a play and throw it away, OK fine. It's the comebackers. It's getting late to cover first base that goes down as a basehit. Everytime that happens, I know [infield coach] Joe [Espada], [outfield coach] Dave Collins and myself, it feels like it takes a chunk out of your heart.

"You guys have been around. You see how much work we do. In four years we have not made the strides we've wanted to..."

Since winning the World Series in 2003, the Marlins have gotten progressively worse on defense. They've made at least 100 errors in each of their last five seasons and actually led baseball in errors in 2007. They finished tied for fifth last season with 106 errors, their best season under Gonzalez.

Last season, Gonzalez said former pitching coach Mark Wiley would chart errors and how many more pitches his pitchers would have to work. This season, Espada is keeping track of errors that hurt the team after the seventh inning and how it affects the game when the are either up a run or down a run.

"I think the mindset we've created here is to keep battling," Gonzalez said. "We've got seven guys who can run you out of the ballpark in a hurry. We can be down three and all of a sudden, single, double, bam we're back in the game... but it's not a good way to win games, it's slow pitch softball style."

Baker, Meyer happy for former A's teammate Braden

CHICAGO -- Dan Meyer was on his way to the airport Sunday night aboard a quiet Marlins team bus when his cell phone began buzzing with text messages from his friends. The first one read: "Did you hear about Dallas Braden?"

"The first thing I'm thinking is what did he say about about A-Rod now?" Meyer said.

It didn't take the Marlins reliever long before he figured out his former minor league teammate in Oakland had just pitched the 19th perfect game in major league history. Soon after, Meyer ran over to share the news with Marlins catcher John Baker, who also played with Braden in the Athletics minor league system, and the two watched video highlights of the feat on Meyer's cell phone before boarding their flight to Chicago.

"It was surreal to see," said Meyer, who played three seasons with Braden in A's farm system and was his roommate for most of those seasons on the road. "We were pretty close, hung out a lot. I know him way outside of baseball. For me it is more than a baseball thing.

"I lived with him, played golf with him and used to stay at his grandmother's house on off days, so I even know the grandmother."

Baker was equally thrilled for Braden and sent him a text message with one word "Wow."

"I couldn't be happier for the guy," said Baker, who caught Braden in several spring training games and played against him once he was traded to the Marlins.

"He's just a different character. He almost seems like he doesn't care. But he he does care -- just like you saw with the Alex Rodriguez thing. He's not afraid of star status. It takes a pitcher like that, whose not afraid, to pitch a game like that."

RESPECT FOR PERFECTION... The Marlins have never had a pitcher throw a perfect game, but have had four toss no-hitters including Anibal Sanchez.

But there is at least one Marlin who has thrown a perfect game at the professional level -- reliever Clay Hensley. He threw one for Class A Hagerstown Suns in 2003 on only 81 pitches.

"It takes a lot of luck," said Hensley, who also threw two no-hitters in college. "The stars have to be aligned for you."

Coghlan Isn't the Pitz at the Plate (Not Yet)


  Before long, Chris Coghlan will surely come up with a double, triple or home run -- an extra-base hit in one form or another -- because he has none at the moment. He'll drop a double down the line, or race into third on a sinking liner that gets past a diving outfielder, or perhaps catch a breezy day at Wrigley Field and deposit a home run in the basket. I mean, anything can happen there. We saw Kevin Millar, of all people, hit an inside-the-park home run at Wrigley in 1999. It was his first big-league home run to boot.

  So Coghlan will get his extra-base hit sooner or laterr because, after all, it's only May 10, and it's not like he swings a toothpick. But if he doesn't, well, then we have to start keeping our eye on the record books.

  Doubt you've ever heard of either Herman Pitz or Bill Holbert. I certainly hadn't. But both played in the late 1800s. They're the only two players to have at least 200 at bats in a season without an extra base hit. Since 1900, the so-called "Modern Era," Jack "Rowdy Jack" O'Connor of the 1906 St. Louis Browns holds the distinction of having the most at bats in one season without an extra-base hit -- 174.

  Right now, Juan Pierre of the White Sox has only singles for hits from 126 at bats. Coghlan, who had three singles on Sunday to cross the "Mendoza Line" with a .206 average, has gone 102 at bats with not one extra-base hit so far.

   Not that anyone's counting.