ATLANTA -- It might not happen very often during this weekend's series against the first-place Braves, but Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said Friday he plans to start giving his bench some more playing time so when he calls on them to pinch hit in tough situations, they can deliver.
The Marlins, who ranked fifth in baseball last season in pinch hitting batting average (.280), have become one of the worst teams at it this season. They rank 24th overall with a .187 average (20 for 107) and have only 15 pinch-hit RBI. Entering Friday's series-opener at Turner Field, the Marlins are 0 for their last 16 in pinch hit situations. The last pinch hit: a run-scoring triple from Wes Helms in a loss to the Phillies on June 8th.
Wednesday night in San Juan, Rodriguez turned to his bench three times against the Mets, twice with runners in scoring position. Mike Lamb, who is only 5 for 27 in pinch hit situations (.185) this season, grounded out to the pitcher with runners on the corners and the score tied at 4 in the fifth. Wes Helms later flew out to deep center with runners on first and second for the final out in the eighth inning and the Marlins down a run. The Marlins lost 6-5.
"It's very tough to come off the bench and get a clutch hit facing a closer who throws 95 or 96 when you haven't played in a week or 10 days," Rodriguez said. "I'm very aware of that.
"My plan is to put them a little bit more often in the lineup, that way they can get their timing back."
The truth is other than Wes Helms, the Marlins bench has hardly contributed at all this season. Emilio Bonifacio, recalled from Triple A on June 6, has made only one start this season and is 0 for 10 in pinch hit situations. Lamb, sent down to Triple A twice, has made only one start and has only 30 at bats overall. Catcher Brett Hayes hasn't started since June 4th and has had only two at-bats since. Infielder Brian Barden, a defensive specialist, has made only two starts and is actually among the better pinch hitters having gone 2 for 5 with an RBI in those situations.
"It's not easy and it's something I'm still learning and getting adjusted to mentally," said Bonifacio, who had 16 career pinch hit at-bats before this season. "Each day I feel better, have more confidence. But I'm not there yet. I'm used to playing every day."
Last season, the Marlins had one of the best 1-2 punches off the bench with Ross Gload and Helms, who ranked first and second in the National League in pinch hits. Helms, who is hitting .252 overall this season, is only 4 for 26 (.154) in pinch hit situations season.
"If we want to win the division, we have to get those bench players, the extra players in good condition to go out there and be more effective," Rodriguez said. "And I think [playing them] is the best way to do it."
A NEW VERAS: When the Marlins signed Jose Veras to a minor league contract in the offseason, they were hoping the former setup man for Mariano Rivera would turn out to be their next great bullpen find off the scrap heap.
When he was sent down to the minors on April 13 with a 15.43 ERA, it looked like the none of the relievers the Marlins signed in the offseason were going to pay off. But the hard-throwing Dominican right-hander might turn out to be a find just yet.
Since being recalled from New Orleans on June 25th, Veras has been dominant in four appearances, giving up just two hits and two walks while striking out six in five scoreless innings.
The secret to his success: better control and a new pitch, a changeup. Veras, 29, baffled several Mets this past week in San Juan with the changeup, a pitch he said he spent a couple weeks working on to add back to his arsenal down in Triple A. Veras, a starter with the Rays early in his career, used to throw a changeup. But when he was put in the bullpen, he said he was urged to use only his fastball and his slider.
"I got a good feel for it," Veras said. "I can throw it for a strike, down in the zone. I feel confident when throw it, like my breaking ball. You throw a fastball 95, 96 and throw a change up, that's a 10 mile per hour difference. If you can get them to roll over to pop up, that's what you want."
Rodriguez, who managed Veras in Triple A, said Veras got behind in the count too often and wasn't aggressive enough.
"When you throw 95, 96, you don't have to be painting the corners," Rodriguez said. "He was trying to be too perfect, throwing fastballs 96, 97 miles per hour on the corner.
"I think he threw about three or four of them [in Puerto Rico], which is good enough. Just to show them, just to keep them off balance. It doesn't have to be his main or secondary pitch. His first pitch is his fastball, his second pitch his slider. Against left handed hitters, if he can show that changeup, that's going to be very effective. It will make his primary pitches better."
And it could potentially make the Marlins bullpen a lot better too. With Clay Hensley, the team's setup man returning Friday from a left neck strain, the Marlins may finally have the back end of their pen set.
"If he keep pitching the way he was pitching in Puerto Rico, that's going to be a big help for the bullpen," Rodriguez said. "Having Veras, Clay Hensley and Tim Wood, Tankersley as situational left-hander, the bullpen could shape up in a positive way."
> Catcher Ronny Paulino, who was scheduled to start his 24th game in a row, will get his first day off since June 4th on Sunday.
> Rodriguez said third baseman Jorge Cantu was battling dizziness Wednesday because of the heat in San Juan. Rodriguez said Cantu told him he was fine Friday and no longer feeling any symptoms. "Just overheating," Cantu said.