VIERA -- Getting set for a night game at Space Coast Stadium, former spring training home of the Marlins, where the news of the hour is the optioniong of left-hander Wade LeBlanc to Triple A. LeBlanc had such a terrific spring that manager Ozzie Guillen referred to him at one point as the "Cy Young" of spring training.
So much for that.
The Marlins have obviously decided they were better off stashing LeBlanc in New Orleans for safekeeping until the need arises for starting help. LeBlanc has been used almost exlusively as a starter throughout his career, and he'll continue to be used in that capacity with the Zephyrs. Had the Marlins kept LeBlanc (1.31 ERA with 19 K's in 20 2/3 innings this spring) and used him as a long man, their bullpen would have also contained three left handers.
"We need him to stay ready (as a starter), just in case we need him at any point," said manager Ozzie Guillen. "That makes us feel more comfortable in case something happens up here."
With LeBlanc no longer in the picture, indications are the final bullpen position -- a long relief spot -- will go to journeyman Chad Gaudin, who was impressive in pitching three scoreless on Thursday. In nine games covering 14 1/3 innings, Gaudin has allowed 12 hits (including a pair of home runs), while striking out 11 and walking 6.
A decision still remains between Donnie Murphy and Donovan Solano for the utility infield job.
JUPITER -- A couple of major moves just announced by the Marlins: outfielder Aaron Rowand has been released while outfielder Bryan Petersen was optioned to Triple A New Orleans -- indications that the team is confident Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton will be ready to go for Opening Night.
It's also a sign that Chris Coghlan and Austin Kearns have won roster spots as backup outfielders.
Rowand struggled throughout spring training, hitting just .133 (6 for 45) while Austin Kearns, another non-roster invitee, hit .364 (12 for 33) with three home runs.
"I'll either go somewhere else if another team needs an outfielder or, if not, probably take it to the house, call it a career," Rowand said outside the clubhouse after being told the news. "Not everybody gets to decide when they're going to hang 'em up. I feel like I have some left. But, if the opportunity doesn't present itself, then I'm happy with the things I've accomplished and looking forward to the next chapter."
No matter where he ends up, Rowand will be paid $12 million by the Giants in what is the final year of his contract with them.
In addition, the Marlins re-assigned pitcher J.D. Martin and infielder Nick Green to minor league camp, bringing the spring training roster down to 33 players.
JUPITER -- The Marlins' "injured three" -- Logan Morrison, Giancarlo Stanton and Greg Dobbs -- tested their legs once more in a minor league game on one of the back fields this morning. Dobbs (hamstring) and Stanton (left knee) looked light on their feet; Morrison not quite as much.
But Morrison can hardly be described as a gazelle to begin with and he was all-out on a double to right-center, rounding first in a hard sprint and sliding into second for the two-bagger. In a subsequent at bat, he ripped a shot into right-center for a stand-up double.
All three players played in the field, as well.
Check out the video of Morrison's first double:
JUPITER -- Giancarlo Stanton and Greg Dobbs are sounding confident that they'll be in uniform Opening Night in Miami. Logan Morrison remains cautiously optimistic, but a bit less certain.
Asked to put a percentage on the likelihood he'll be in the lineup next Wednesday when the Marlins open the season against the Cardinals, Morrison replied: "My heart says 100 percent and my mind doesn't know."
All three Marlins will be playing in minor-league games today. Stanton said that if all goes well, he'll make the trip to Viera to play against the Nationals and pitcher Stephen Strasburg. All three hope to play in the exhibition games against the Yankees on Sunday on Monday.
Morrison, who is dealing with soreness and swelling in his right knee -- the result of arthroscopic surgery in December -- took it as a good sign that there was no swelling in the knee when he woke up on Wednesday, one day after he played the field in a minor-league game.
"The first time I played in Miami it was really sore the next day," Morrison said. "It didn't feel terrible yesterday. It felt all right. So I think there's improvement there."
The question, Morrison said, is if the knee will feel the same "over seven or nine" straight days of playing. One motivating factor, he said: the opening of the new ballpark. He wants to be a part of that, not on the disabled list.
"It would be pretty awesome to be in the starting lineup," Morrison said. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't playing a big factor into it. If we were still at Sun Life, I don't know. Obviously, you want to be there no matter what. But it's pretty cool opening a new ballpark against the Cardinals, the World Series champions, and playing in front of a sold-out rowd. It's definitely a motivating factor. But I can't force it because it's 162 games, not one."
Jose Ceda said it's all but certain he'll undergo Tommy John surgery next week. Ceda, who was bidding to win a bullpen spot on the Opening Day roster, said he was told he had a 50 percent tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Ceda, 25, said he could have tried to pitch through the injury this season but would have required ligament replacement surgery eventually.
"It's really disappointing," Ceda said.
Ceda said that in his last spring outing (March 22 against Atlanta), he felt discomfort in his elbow anytime he tried to throw a breaking ball. The next morning, Ceda said, he was unable to move the elbow at all and sought medical help.
One day after shortstop Jose Reyes dyed his hair a rust color, third baseman Hanley Ramirez did the same.
Asked if he would follow suit, second baseman Omar Infante replied: "No chance. I don't like. Too ugly."
KISSIMMEE -- Jose Ceda is no longer in the mix for a bullpen position. According to a team source, Ceda has a right elbow sprain and is out indefinitely.
"He won't be going South (to MIami)," the source said.
Have also learned that Ceda may seek a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews and could elect to undergo Tommy John surgery. Ceda pitched last on Thursday in Kissimmee against the Braves.
Ceda has had a decent spring, making five appearances and allowing a run over 7 1/3 innings, striking out eight and walking two.
The remaining field of contenders for the final bullpen spot (or spots) include Wade LeBlanc, Chad Gaudin and Gary Glover. The Marlins haven't decided yet whether they will use LeBlanc as their long man or send him to New Orleans as insurance in case one of the starters on the big-league roster goes down.
However, after stretching LeBlanc out and having him make a Grapefruit League start, the Marlins have shifted gears and are now going in the other direction with him. LeBlanc threw one inning of relief on Wednesday and is down to work out of the bullpen again on Friday, perhaps signaling the Marlins ultimate intentions with him.
KISSIMMEE -- Now that he's moved to the National League, Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen can actually give thought to experimenting a bit more with his lineup. One option that might be worth exploring: batting Carlos Zambrano somewhere other than the nine hole. Tony La Russa used to do it all the time with his pitchers when he managed the Cardinals and had Albert Pujols in the lineup. Jack McKeon tried it a few times toward the end of the 2005 season with Dontrelle Willis, installing him in both the 7th and 8th slots.
While Guillen hasn't ruled out that possibility, he prefers keeping Big Z -- one of the top hitting pitchers in the majors -- in the bottom spot.
And, at the moment, Guillen said he can't think of a good reason, even though Zambrano has the hitting credentials to make it something worth considering. Zambrano's career .241 average is identical to John Buck's career average. Zambrano has won three Silver Slugger awards as the league's top hitting pitcher. His 23 home runs put him in a tie for 9th (with Walter Johnson) on the all-time list of most home runs by a pitcher (Wes Ferrell sits atop the list with 38). Even though Zambrano had a mediocre season on the mound last year for the Cubs, he enjoyed his best season at the plate, hitting .318 with an OPS of .848.
Nonetheless, Guillen said he prefers Zambrano in the 9 hole.
"I don't think any pitcher is better than a (position player)," Guillen said. "I just worry about, make sure you pitch, that's why you get paid."
Guillen could use Zambrano off the bench as an early-innings pinch-hitter, though the pitcher's career numbers in that department (3 for 29 for an .094 average) are much less impressive than his overall numbers.
Marlins: 1. Emilio Bonifacio, cf; 2. Omar Infante, 2b; 3. Gaby Sanchez, 1b; 4. John Buck, c; 5. Bryan Petersen, rf; 6. Chris Coghlan, lf; 7. Donovan Solano, ss; 8. Donnie Murphy, 3b; 9. Carlos Zambrano, p.
Astros: 1. Brian Bogusevic, cf; 2. Jed Lowrie, ss; 3. J.D. Martinez, lf; 4. Carlos Lee, 1b; 5. Travis Buck, rf; 6. Chris Johnson, 3b; 7. Chris Snyder, c; 8. Jose Altuve, 2b; 9. Lucas Harrell, p.
LAKELAND -- Two Marlins left-handers got back to work Monday after long lay-offs -- and both were pleased with their efforts in a 3-3, 10-inning tie against the Tigers.
Mark Buehrle, who skipped his last start, made his third start in Grapefruit League action and gave up all three runs to Detroit on home runs. The first two runs came on his first three pitches -- a single by Austin Jackson followed by a two-run home run by Brennan Boesch to right. Jhonny Peralta then hit a solo home run on the first pitch in the fourth to left.
But Buehrle, who turned 33 on Friday, was still pleased with his six-inning, six-hit effort, which featured five strikeouts and no walks. He threw just 71 pitches in all.
"Very surprised he's had the spring he's having -- he's always had an ugly spring," Guillen said of Buehrle who has given up 10 earned runs over 12 1/3 innings (7.30 ERA). "But he's throwing the ball very well. I'm very happy where he is. I'm very pleased with the pitching staff."
Left-handed specialist Randy Choate pitched a scoreless inning of relief, his first appearance in Grapefruit League action this spring since straining his right lat in camp. Choate's only mistake was leaving a fastball up to Boesch, who doubled to centerfield in the eighth. Choate retired the other three hitters he faced on ground balls.
"Didn't really get the fastball where I wanted in on Boesch, but other than my side felt great, elbow feels good," said Choate, whose 2011 season ended prematurely with a small tear in his throwing elbow. "I was a little too amped up, almost throwing with too much sink. But I did get [three] ground balls.
"It's good to be back."
LAKELAND -- Ozzie Guillen said Sunday he was going to lean on pitching coach Randy St. Claire to decide who serves as the setup man for closer Heath Bell. Well, if that's the case, consider Edward Mujica the heavy favorite to be that guy come Opening Day.
Mujica, 27, hasn't done anything to lose that job this spring, even though the rest of the Marlins bullpen has pitched really well, too. In five appearances, Mujica has posted a 1.80 ERA, striking out six with no walks. Ryan Webb has done even better -- tossing six scoreless innings of relief in five appearances with three strikeouts and no walks. Steve Cishek has a 1.93 ERA in 4 2/3 innings, with three strikeouts and two walks.
Of course, the Marlins were hoping to have someone else serve as their setup man before spring training began -- former closer Juan Carlos Oviedo. But with the man formerly known as Leo Nunez still on the restricted and sitting in the Dominican Republic, the Marlins have had to move on with their plans and it appears Mujica, Oviedo's close friend, will fill his spot at the start of the season.
St. Claire said aside from Mujica the Marlins could also use left-handed specialist Randy Choate to get tough lefties out in the 8th before inserting Mujica after him.
St. Claire said what separates Mujica from other Marlins relievers in that eight inning role is his ability to get lefties out with his split-fingered fastball. Last season, lefties hit .220 against Mujica in 132 at-bats compared to .245 versus righties in 143 at-bats.
"He's going to throw the ball over the plate, we saw that last year," St. Claire said of Mujica, who walked just 14 of the 297 batters he faced in 2011.
"And that's something you got to have out of your guys in the back end of the pen. When you're in a one-run game, two-run game, you can't be putting guys on base. He doesn't. He makes them hit the ball."
Of his 67 appearances last season, Mujica made 40 in the 8th inning, posting a 2.97 ERA in 33 1/3 innings of work in the frame. He struckout 31 and walked two. He was even better in the 7th, posting a 0.96 ERA in 18 2/3 innings with 15 strikeouts and two walks.
If Mujica were out, St. Claire said: "It would be a mix and match type deal, who you got coming up whether they're righties, lefties, that type of deal. You try to mix and match to get through that inning. But when you have that true eighth inning guy, it's usually 'here's the ball.' Just like the closer. You're not usually worrying about matching up because he gets both out the same."
St. Claire said he's asked the Marlins several times this spring for an update on Oviedo, but has been told repeatedly "there's no news."
> Choate will pitch in Grapefruit League play for the first time today against the Tigers. St. Claire said he wants to get him about 20 pitchers -- or an inning of work.
> St. Claire said the only Marlins starter who won't be allowed to go over the 95-pitch mark at the start of the season is Anibal Sanchez, who was held back a start at the beginning of Grapefruit League play because of shoulder stiffness.
St. Claire said the way the Marlins starting rotation is lined up at the moment, Ricky Nolasco will face the Yankees at Marlins Park Sunday and Carlos Zambrano will start versus New York a day later.
The rotation will then reset with Josh Johnson pitching on Opening Day April 4th against the Cardinals and Mark Buehrle (April 5th), Nolasco (April 7th) and Zambrano (April 8th) lined up to pitch versus the Reds in Cincinnati. That means Sanchez, slated to be the Marlins fifth starter, will make his debut April 9th in Philadelphia.
MURPHY WANTS TO FINISH STRONG
> Last year at this time, Donnie Murphy was preparing to serve as the Marlins starting third baseman on Opening Day. Now, he's not sure if he'll have a roster spot on the 2012 Marlins.
The 29-year old veteran utility man has struggled this spring at the plate, hitting just .194 (6 for 31) in 13 games and is receiving stiff competition from 24-year old non-roster invitee Donovan Solano (hitting .375 in 17 games) for the job.
Murphy isn't in the starting lineup today against the Tigers, but he will make an appearance off the bench. He hopes to make the best of it and every other opportunity going forward.
"Obviously this is not where I wanted to be at this point," Murphy said Monday. "But I'm not going to worry about it. Whatever happens, happens. Every year there is always competition. Sometimes you're in a position where you're comfortable and sometimes you don't. I can't control that. Hopefully, I'll use this last week to finish up strong and go from there and see what happens."
> Marlins: 1. Jose Reyes SS, 2. Emilio Bonifacio CF, 3. Hanley Ramirez 3B, 4. Gaby Sanchez, 5. Omar Infante 2B, 6. Chris Coghlan LF, 7. Austin Kearns RF, 8. John Buck C, 9. Mark Buehrle P.
> Tigers: 1. Austin Jackson CF, 2. Brennan Boesch RF, 3. Jhonny Peralta SS, 4. Prince Fielder 1B, 5. Delmon Young LF, 6. Alex Avila C, 7. Ryan Raburn 2B, 8. Brandon Inge DH, 9. Audy Ciriaco 3B. Rick Porcello is pitching.
LAKELAND -- If you haven't already seen it on YouTube, MrSand0080 posted this video of the Marlins' home run sculpture in all its water-spouting, fish-spinning glory.
The funky contraption is supposed to debut and be operational for the public when the Marlins host the Yankees on Sunday in the first of two exhibition games at Marlins Park.
Hanley Ramirez was the first Marlin to hit a home run at Marlins Park. But who will be the first to set off this thing?
PORT CHARLOTTE -- Josh Johnson is going to make his next-to-last start of the spring this afternoon against the Rays as the Marlins look to pick up their first Grapefruit League win since March 15. They are 0-7-2 over their last nine games.
Catcher John Buck said the Marlins ace has looked good to him all spring coming back from the right shoulder inflammation that cost him most of the 2011 season. What Buck said excites him the most is he knows Johnson has another gear he hasn't shown anyone this spring and is saving for the regular season. Buck said Johnson has also started to gain more confidence in his curveball and changeup.
"If he has those two working as well as his fastball and slider he will be an unbelievable pitcher," Buck said.
"We've seen at it times -- the effectiveness of those pitches [the changeup and curveball]. But he hasn't been able to really go to them and know they will be there at that given time with the sharpness he wants. I think he's getting to the point now where he knows that pitch will do what he wants it to do."
> With only a week left in Grapefruit League play, two bench spots are all that's really left to play for on the Opening Day roster.
With outfielder Austin Kearns, catcher Brett Hayes and corner infielder Greg Dobbs pretty much penciled in as reserves, the Marlins are basically looking at Chris Coghlan or Bryan Petersen as their left-handed hitting outfielder off the bench (or potential starter if Logan Morrison or Mike Stanton aren't ready), and veteran Donnie Murphy or 24-year old Donovan Solano as the utility middle infielder.
The Marlins brought Solano with them on this two-game road trip through Port Charlotte and Lakeland to take a good look at him. While Murphy, 29, has struggled at the plate (.194, 6 for 31 in 13 games), Solano has the second-highest average on the team behind Hanley Ramirez.
Solano is hitting .387 (12 of 31 in 16 games) and has a .457 on base percentage. Defensively, he's been error free in 45 chances and has turned seven double plays. Murphy hasn't made any errors in 35 chances.
Solano, a .278 career hitter in 235 games at the Triple A level, has never played in the big leagues. But this is the longest he's stuck around in camp in his career and he's hopeful he could sneak onto the Marlins Opening Day roster.
Solano, born in Barranquilla, Columbia, grew up playing soccer and baseball. But he fell in love with baseball after seeing fellow Columbian Edgar Renteria drive home the game-winning run in the 1997 World Series. Solano was nine at the time and eventually got the chance to train some with Renteria when he was a teenager.
"He taught me a lot of things, how to take ground balls, baseball stuff," Solano said.
As for soccer, Solano said he just wasn't good enough. "I started at forward and kept getting moved further and further back," Solano said. "They didn't want me around the ball."
Coghlan, the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year, is hitting .250 (7 of 28 in 9 games) with two RBI, one walk and four strikeouts. Petersen is hitting . .229 (8 of 35 in 15 games), but has a higher on base percentage (.341) than Coghlan (.276) thanks to six walks.
> Marlins: 1. Jose Reyes SS, 2. Emilio Bonifacio 2B, 3. Hanley Ramirez 3B, 4. Gaby Sanchez 1B, 5. John Buck C, 6. Omar Infante 2B, 7. Aaron Roward LF, 8. Bryan Petersen RF, 9. Josh Johnson P.