Javi Vazquez's first eight starts of the season haven't exactly gone the way the Marlins envisioned it when they signed him to a one-year, $7 million deal this winter.
So how important will his ninth start be Saturday against the Rays? Well, it doesn't appear like he's pitching for his job -- at least not yet.
"I think [this start] is very important for Javi, but I think it's more important for us, the Florida Marlins," manager Edwin Rodriguez said Friday.
"We need to establish and solidify that rotation. And without him in the rotation, we don't have many options. He's going to have to step up, make adjustments because that rotation, the one we send out there, that's the one we plan on using. We're going to stay with that rotation and see how far it takes us."
Vazquez is 2-4 and has a 7.55 ERA that ranks 148th out of 150 starting pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched this season. He's been working with pitching coach Randy St. Claire since spring training "to use his body more" on his delivery. The problem Rodriguez said he sees is Vazquez's mental approach, adding, "he needs to be aggressive with secondary pitches. He's trying to be perfect with those secondary pitches."
According to a report from fangraphs.com, Vazquez's fastball velocity (88.2 mph) is the slowest of his career and he's getting swings and misses on just 9.5 percent of all his pitches, compared with 26.7 percent two years ago. Asked if Vazquez is getting enough break on his secondary pitches, St. Claire said "yeah."
Ultimately, Rodriguez and St. Claire are hoping if Vazquez can get past his first inning struggles (he's given up at least one run in the first inning of every start and has a 15.25 ERA in the frame) he may be able to turn things around.
"As an organization and manager you have to have a Plan B for everything," Rodriguez said. "If you look down at the minor leagues the guys were thinking about are hurt or struggling. You look at the bullpen, there's nobody there you can rely on for those starts. We're relying on him."
St. Claire said the pitcher who is likely the closest to being ready down in the minors in 27-year old right-hander Jay Buente, who is 3-0 with a Pacific Coast League-leading 1.94 ERA. The drawback? Buente, a former reliever, has just five minor league starts this season under his belt.
"Right now he's locating his fastball and he's using his curveball," St. Claire said.
"Out of the bullpen he was just fastball, splitty and he wasn't commanding his fastball. That's where he got in trouble here, his walks. He's not walking anybody down there. He's walking a guy every four or five innings. Maybe the starting role has helped him out where he's found that fastball command and he's using his curveball more. Last year he came up here and he didn't use a curveball. I talked to him about using it when he went down. Then, he had shoulder issues and they shut him down. Now, he has three pitches working for him."
St. Claire said left-hander Sean West, who went 8-8 with a 5.03 ERA in 22 big league starts over the 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Marlins, is close to finishing up rehab in Triple A.
"He looked good in spring," St. Claire said. "He was throwing the ball over the plate. It was just about getting his pitch count up and getting him back into pitching."
Asked who had the best stuff among the minor league pitchers he saw this spring, St. Claire said: "Probably [Tom] Koehler. He's got a good arm. He's probably the second guy right now."
Koehler is 4-0 with a 3.16 ERA in New Orleans. But his last start May 16 lasted just two innings as he walked five and gave up three hits and three earned runs.
> Staff ace Josh Johnson, who took a come backer to the mound off his right forearm Monday night against the Mets, threw his usual bullpen session Thursday. St. Claire said the extra day off caused by Tuesday's rain out "worked out nice" for Johnson.
"Hopefully the pain in out of there," St. Claire said. "He didn’t throw many breaking balls [during his session], but he doesn’t throw many anyways. He spins a few, but doesn't throw a lot on his sides, mainly locates his fastball and his changeup. Depending on his fingers feel and the blisters and stuff, he'll spin a few balls."
> Rodriguez said it's likely Chris Coghlan will get Saturday off when the Marlins face left-hander David Price. Coghlan, mired in a 13 for 77 (.169) slump since pulling himself out of a game against the Dodgers with shoulder pain, is hitting just .106 (5 for 47) against lefties this season.
"I think he’s getting late to the hitting position," Rodriguez said. "I think he needs to start earlier. We already approached that so he’s working on that."
Could it be the shoulder? "The trainer says he’s fine," Rodriguez said. "He’s been very honest through his career with me. He says he’s fine. He’s just struggling at the plate."
Rodriguez said he would hit Emilio Bonifacio in the leadoff spot and not Hanley Ramirez when Coghlan is out of the lineup.
> Left fielder Logan Morrison said he was saddened to hear about the death Friday of former wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage. "I only ate Slim Jim because of him, " Morrison said. "I was a big wrestling fan for like two years and when I was he was my dude. I would try to emulate his voice 'Step into a Slim Jim, oh yeah!' Then your voice would get hoarse. It's sad man. He's my guy. He'd get you jacked up."
Savage, whose real name is Randy Poffo, actually played in the minor leagues in the early 1970s for the Cardinals and Reds.
> Marlins (24-18): 1. Chris Coghlan CF, 2. Hanley Ramirez SS, 3. Logan Morrison LF, 4. Gaby Sanchez 1B, 5. Greg Dobbs 3B, 6. Mike Stanton RF, 7. John Buck C, 8. Omar Infante 2B, 9. Anibal Sanchez P.
> Rays (25-19): 1. John Jaso C, 2. Ben Zobrist 2B, 3. Johnny Damon LF, 4. Evan Longoria 3B, 5. Matt Joyce RF, 6. B.J. Upton CF, 7. Casey Kotchman 1B, 8. Elliot Johnson SS, 9. Andy Sonnanstine P.