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John Baker Could Be Marlins' Lefty Bat Off The Bench

      Even though he might still be incapable of contributing defensively come Opening Day, catcher John Baker might be available to the Marlins as a left-handed pinch-hitter off the bench. Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said today that Baker, who underwent elbow ligament replacement (Tommy John) surgery in September, could be used as a lefty bat off the bench even if his throwing arm isn't yet at full strength.

      "He may be full-go hitting (by then)," Beinfest said. "Baker has been in the big leagues. He does have experience. And he knows how to deal with pitching in the National League."

      With the winter meetings set to kick off Monday in Orlando, finding a lefty bat for the bench is one of the few remaining tasks for Beinfest and the Marlins' front office, which has already performed most of the heavy lifting this offseason in terms of roster changes. While rookie Scott Cousins is one possibility for the role, Baker is another in-house option.

      "Took my first 25 swings off a tee on Wednesday and it went well," Baker said in a text message. "25 today, 50 next week m w f, and then flips 3rd week of December. Plan is to be at full strength hitting by January 1st. I'm going to southern California early January to work with Brady Anderson from the O's. I'm going to shadow wes helms during spring training so I can improve as a pinch-hitter."

       Baker said he doesn't begin throwing until Jan. 1, which means it's highly unlikely he'll be at full-strength throwing when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in mid-February. Baker's pinch-hitting history in the majors is limited. He is just 2 for 15 as  PH, but one of his hits was a home run, a game-tying, 3-run blast in the ninth off the Giants' Brian Wilson in 2008. Overall, he is a career .287 hitter against right-handed pitching (compared to .189 vs. LH).

      -- My Hall of Fame ballot arrived in the mail today. On it for the first time are three former Marlins who were members of the '97 championship team: Kevin Brown, Charles Johnson and Al Leiter. Other former Marlins on this year's ballot are Lenny Harris, Tim Raines and Benito Santiago.

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