Emilio Bonifacio extended his hitting streak to 19 games on Wednesday, and throughout his recent run, manager Jack McKeon has said multiple times Bonifacio is starting to remind him of former speedy, switch-hitting leadoff man Luis Castillo.
Castillo, of course, hit at the top of the order for Florida’s 2003 World Championship team that McKeon also managed.
“Now, [Bonifacio] is doing like Luis used to do,” McKeon said. “Loop one over third. Loop one over second. Get a bouncer and run like hell. It's just going to take a little time.”
McKeon inserted Bonifacio into the No. 1 spot when he took over for Edwin Rodriguez in mid-June. Bonifacio has responded by putting together the major league’s longest active hit streak.
Bonifacio is more than halfway to Castillo’s franchise-best 35-game string, which he compiled in 2002.
The biggest difference for Bonifacio has been his willingness to put the ball on the ground, especially when behind in the count.
“That’s the thing you’re trying to impress upon him,” McKeon said. “With his speed, when you get to two strikes, you’ve got to choke up and put the ball in play. Cut that swing down.”
Bonifacio has walked 12 times and struck out only 12 times during the stretch, while hitting .394.
“He’s doing real well,” McKeon said. “You don't want to give him too much right now. Perfect what you're doing, and then we'll add and change it.”
The next tweak McKeon would like to see Bonifacio make to his game? Drag bunting, placing the ball just past the pitcher on the first-base side.
McKeon joked that if Bonifacio bunted every time at the plate, he could get “two hits every five at-bats.” And even if teams adjusted their defense, McKeon said Bonifacio could hit .333.
“[Bonifacio] is the kind of guy that if he could stay quiet in the batter’s box, he could be a guy who could bunt with two strikes and beat it out,” McKeon said. “Mickey Mantle used to do that all the time. Two strikes, everybody is playing way back, not thinking he’s going to bunt.”
Reliever Edward Mujica leads Florida in wins, and if the Marlins move Leo Nuñez before the July 31 trade deadline, manager Jack McKeon said Wednesday that Mujica would be his next choice to serve as the team’s closer, but McKeon would like to “keep them where I’ve got them.”
As long as Nuñez is with the Fish, McKeon said he would be comfortable using Nuñez for multiple innings or in non-save situations. McKeon almost used Nuñez in the eighth inning of a game in Chicago, but coaches told him Nuñez had not yet done that in 2011. Nuñez’s 27 saves, good for fourth-best in the majors, have all come the conventional way thus far.
“If he’s never gone more than one inning, then he’s going to start going more than one inning,” McKeon said. “Why hasn’t he gone more than one inning? Because no one has put him to the test. … The mentality has gotten to the point now where, ‘Oh, this guy’s got to close in the ninth inning when you’ve got the lead.’ But it might be a little different.”
Nuñez last entered the eighth inning of a game in April 2010 against the Mets, when he walked three batters and registered a blown save.
When asked who would close if Nuñez gets traded — ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported Tuesday the Marlins have talked to the Phillies about Nuñez — McKeon said Mujica has the mentality to pitch the ninth.
“He comes in and pretty much goes right after you,” McKeon said. “That’s part of being a good closer. He doesn’t get intimidated.”
Mujica is 8-2 with a 2.98 ERA in 45 1/3 innings pitched, striking out 34 and walking five. He is one victory away from tying Rob Nenn’s team record for relief wins in a season. But beyond Mujica’s numbers, McKeon has a good feeling about the righty reliever.
“[Mujica] is my good luck charm,” McKeon said. “I’ve had guys like that in the past. When you ride a good horse for a while, you ride him. [When] it looks like we’re in a jam and we’re down a run or two, and I say, ‘Get so and so up.’ All the sudden he’s in the game and we score three. That’s the way those good luck charms are.”
-- Matt Forman