If playoffs started today for Marlins, Buehrle would start Game 1 Guillen says; plus Coghlan beginning to find niche
There are still 111 games and a little more than four months left in the season, but if the playoffs started today the Marlins (29-22) would be hosting the New York Mets in a wild card game.
So who would be on the mound for the Marlins in a winner-take-all one-game playoff? All things being equal, Ozzie Guillen said Wednesday it wouldn't be Opening Day starter Josh Johnson. Nor ERA team leader Anibal Sanchez (2.57), who ranks fourth in the NL in strikeouts (70). It wouldn't be the franchise's all-time wins leader Ricky Nolasco either.
Guillen's guy for a must-win playoff game? Mark Buehrle.
"Nothing against my other four guys, but that's the only one I know what I'm going to get for that particular day," said Guillen of the veteran 33-year old left-hander, who won a World Series for him in 2005.
"I've told him in the past when the bullpen is tired -- give me 7, 8, 9 innings. He'll give you everything he has," Guillen went on to say. "He's not an unbelievable athlete. But they don't give you a gold glove just because. This kid is legit. I hope everyone gives him a little bit of love. If that guy pitched for the New York Yankees, he would be an ace. He pitches for the White Sox and Marlins, who cares. He's not a first round pick who came in being a $100 million guy. He just works his ass off to put himself in a good position. He throws 84, 85, 86 and makes $100 million. There has to be a reason. You make all that money with that crap he throws, you better be good."
Buehrle, who will open a three-game series against the Phillies in Philadelphia Friday, went 4-0 with a 3.19 ERA in May. He held opponennts to a .235 average, down from the .274 average he allowed over his five starts in April when he went 1-4 with a 3.34 ERA.
COGHLAN FEELING RELAXED
His batting average is still an abysmal .134 (9 for 67). His on base percentage is just as bad at .174. But little by little former National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan is beginning to find a niche and valuable role with the Marlins.
Since Emilio Bonifacio went down with a sprained left thumb May 19th, Coghlan has started nine of 11 games in the outfield. And although he's hit just .152 in that span, he's played a valuable role in several big wins.
Last Friday, he belted a 3-run home run off San Francisco's Tim Lincecum and on Wednesday had a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning in the Marlins 5-3 come-from-behind win over the Nationals.
But his biggest lift has come defensively, where he's made several nice catches on the run to preserve leads.
"Little by little he contributes to win some games," Guillen said. "I know the batting average isn't what we want. But he just started to play everyday just a couple days ago. He made a big play for us, big RBI and runs scored for us. Little by little he's doing stuff. I think he feels good about himself, helping us to win some games and that's what we need.
"We're not going to win with one or two guys. We're going to win with 25 guys. This kid started his career very well and then injuries took over and put him a little bit backwards. A few people passed him and now it's his opportunity to show us he can be an everyday player again. He's going to have times. Hopefully he takes advantage of that and opens some people's eyes, help us to win some games."
Normally, the retractable roof at Marlins Park closes before storms arrive and soak the field.
That didn't happen Wednesday.
A surprise storm cell in Little Havana around 3:30 p.m. caught the stadium crew a little off guard, drenching the field and leaving more than a foot of water in the photographer and TV camera well adjacent to the Marlins dugout near third base.
Luckily, the protective tarp was already on the infield. While batting practice was wiped out for both teams, the game is expected to start on time at 7:10 p.m.
"As soon as we saw it was above us, we made the decision to cover the infield and then activate the roof," Marlins Executive Vice President of Operations Claude Delorme said.
"With this weather, and we saw it at [the team's previous home] Sun Life Stadium, you do get surprises. The cells -- one minute there's nothing -- and then all of a sudden it turns on you. I'm glad it happened now. The worst thing is if the roof was open and it happened a half an hour before the game. Three hours before the game we can deal with."
After drying the field, the camera well and parts of the dugout where standing water remained, stadium workers turned their attention to wiping down all of the 37,000 seats in the stadium and using squeegees to remove water in the aisles as fans enter the stadium around 5 p.m. The press box and suites were also soaked because they were kept open from the night before.
Delorme said it's the first time stadium officials were surprised by a storm cell on a game day since the park opened back in March. Delorme said the Marlins receive a phone call from a meteorologist off-site when rough weather or surprise cells are in the area. At that point, it takes about 10 minutes to go through the safety measures before the roof can be closed, he said. The roof then closes in about 13 minutes.
The Marlins leave the roof open throughout the morning and afternoon on most days so the grass can receive sun light and light rain.
> Nationals (29-20): 1. Steve Lombardozzi LF, 2. Bryce Harper CF, 3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B, 4. Adam LaRoche 1B, 5. Ian Desmond SS, 6. Danny Espinosa 2B, 7. Roger Bernadina RF, 8. Jhonatan Solano C, 9. Chien-Ming Wang P.
> Marlins (28-22): 1. Jose Reyes SS, 2. Omar Infante 2B, 3. Hanley Ramirez 3B, 4. Giancarlo Stanton RF, 5. Logan Morrison 1B, 6. Bryan Petersen CF, 7. John Buck C, 8. Chris Coghlan LF, 9. Josh Johnson P.
Wednesday, those typical summer storms caught the Marlins Park stadium crew asleep at the wheel.
Heavy rains in Little Havana have left the field soaked. The roof is finally closed. But here is what it looked like before the stadium crew got the job done moments ago.
There were tears when Donovan Solano picked his brother, Jhonatan, up at the airport Monday night.
"We cried a little bit," Jhonatan said.
Said Donovan to Jhonatan: "We did it!"
Who could blame them for their tears and exctiement? Donovan Solano was an infielder in the Marlins farm system only 10 days ago. Jhonatan, the oldest of the Solano brothers by two years, was in the Nationals' minor-league system. Neither had ever spent a day in the majors. But in the short span of those 10 incredible days, both Solanos reached the big leagues for the first time. And they'll be sitting in opposing dugouts.
"It's amazing," Donovan said.
It's big news in their native Colombia, where the local papers are trumpeting the story, as well they should. They are only the 12th and 13th Colombian-born players to reach the majors. The Nationals, in need of catching help, called up Jhonatan following Monday's game.
Incredibly, though, they're not the first brothers from Colombia to make it. The Cabreras -- Orlando and Jolbert -- beat them to that feat.
The brothers' parents -- Luis Solano and Myriam Preciado -- quickly made flight arrangements to be in Miami for tonight's game. So as to remain impartial as possible, mom is wearing a Marlins jersey while dad has on a Nationals shirt.
Marlins: 1. Reyes, ss; 2. Infante, 2b; 3. Ramirez, 3b; 4. Stanton, rf; 5. Morrison, 1b; 6. Petersen, cf; 7. Buck, c; 8. Coghlan, lf; 9. Sanchez, p.
Nationals: 1. Lombardozzi, 2b; 2. Harper, rf; 3. Zimmerman, 3b; 4. LaRoche, 1b: 5. Desmond, ss; 6. Ankiel, cf; 7. Brown, lf; 8. Maldonado, c; 9. Jackson, p.
JUPITER -- For the first time in his career, Juan Carlos Oviedo will get to put on a baseball jersey with his real name on it.
And even though it will take place Wednesday on a backfield at the Marlins spring training facility in front of no one other than a few minor league development coordinators, the eight grueling months he's waited to savor it will be worth it for the 30-year old Dominican-born relief pitcher.
"There are no words to explain how happy I am to have my father's name," Oviedo said Tuesday, a day after returning to South Florida with a new visa and being suspended by Major League Baseball for eight weeks for going by the assumed identity of his best friend, Leo Nunez, for the last 12 years.
"My father is gone now [passed away in spring 2011]. But that's what he wanted -- to see that my name is Oviedo. My brothers and my mom are happy, too."
Oviedo, who spent the past eight months in the Dominican Republic trying to resolve the identity issue, was contrite Tuesday morning over the fiasco.
Wearing a white t-shirt and jeans, he answered questions in Spanish for about 10 minutes about what it was like to sit at home in the Dominican and watch his teammates on TV (he admitted he often changed the channel). He talked about losing his closer's job to Heath Bell, and how he can't wait to participate in the team's Lo Viste hand gestures with close friends Emilio Bonifacio, Edward Mujica and Hanley Ramirez.
But mainly, Oviedo said, he's just focused on rejoining his teammates and getting back on the mound in the big leagues. That won't happen again, of course, until July 23rd at the earliest -- the day after his eight-week suspension runs out.
In the meantime, Oviedo will participate in extended spring training before the Marlins are allowed to send him for one rehabilitation assignment to a minor-league affiliate that cannot exceed 16 days. That is expected to happen at the end of his suspension so he can prepare for an eventual return to the team.
"His name has changed, but I'm hoping the stuff is the same. And we think it is," said Larry Beinfest, the team's President of Baseball Operations, who along with general manager Mike Hill were in Jupiter Tuesday to accompany Oviedo.
"He has plenty of time to get ready. You can see he's in great shape. He'll just work backwards. Jeff Schwartz is our [Gulf Coast League] rehab coordinator, pitching coordinator. Oviedo will work with him, [pitching coach] Randy [St. Claire], [minor league trainer] Gene Basham and they'll get him ready. He has a ways to go."
Even though at times he worried his career might be over, Oviedo said he spent all of his time in the Dominican preparing for a return. He said he threw bullpens, lifted weights and ran. He'll do more of the same until he can get into some games.
"We'll be able to create some things for him," Beinfest said. "Obviously, not game situations. But we'll do some simulated games. We have coordinators here on site. We'll have some other rehabbers here on site. There's plenty of work to be done here on site."
So what role will Oviedo be put in once his suspension is over? Apparently, anything but closer.
"We have a closer," Beinfest said referring to Heath Bell. "I know he's been in the news quite a bit. Did a good job [Monday]. But he's our closer. When JC returns whether it's setup or seventh inning or specialist or whatever it is, it's an awful good arm and he'll find a home out there.
"And you know things happen over the course of a season. Hopefully those things won't happen and he'll be ready to go in a couple months and it could be a big boost. That's an awful big arm with a lot of experience to add at the end of July."
MORE NOTES FROM BEINFEST
> When can we expect to see Gaby Sanchez again in the big leagues?
"We're keeping an eye on him," Beinfest said. "We want him to be confident and comfortable. Gaby's always hit. That's been his big tool. He hit in the minor leagues. He pretty much hit immediately when he came to the major leagues. For him not to hit is a little bit off the tracks and not something we anticipated. Let's get him really feeling good about himself and comfortable. I don't know what that timetable is. I think his 10th day is coming up today or tomorrow. We'll see from there. Logan is doing a fine job at first and his bat looks like it's waking up a little bit. We'll take it as a positive and do what we got to do.
> Even though the Marlins are 19-8 in May, are there things that can be done to upgrade this team?
"There are always things that can be done," Beinfest said. "I think we believe in our talent. Some of the struggles with some of the players we didn't anticipate. I don't think we've seen this team play up to its potential, which I think is a good thing in a lot of ways. There's room for improvement. Maybe we can really get it going. We played all those close games in the beginning of the month and then kind of really have been consistent the last two weeks of the month. Whether that's changes or not, I don't know. It's till May. We'll see as we get closer.
"We'd like to see some of the guys who performed in the big leagues get back to the level they've already done up here. Gaby is in the minor leagues and that's not really great. Coghlan was down in the minor leagues and that's not great. Buck has struggled. You can go through the lineup and Bell struggled at times. Even Mike Stanton struggled through the first month of the season. You'd just like to get that consistently going and have guys live up to their potential. Then, I think we'll be fine. Because we like the talent we have on the field."
Juan Carlos Oviedo, the Marlins relief pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez, arrived in South Florida Monday and was promptly handed an eight-week suspension by Major League Baseball for age and identity fraud.
The suspension will run through July 22nd, meaning the first day Oviedo will be eligible to return to the Marlins is July 23rd, when they open up a three-game series at Marlins Park against the Braves.
According to the league, Oviedo, who spent the last eight months in the Dominican Republic trying to resolve the issue of his identity, will be eligible to participate in extended Spring Training during the period of his suspension. The Marlins allowed to send Oviedo for one rehabilitation assignment to a Minor League affiliate that cannot exceed 16 days. That is expected to happen at the end of his suspension so he can prepare to return to the team.
Oviedo will meet with reporters Tuesday morning in Jupiter along with President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest and general manager Mike Hill.
Gio Gonzalez is happy to be home.
He's just not so happy he and his Nationals teammates are back at the ballpark so early Monday. First-place Washington spent Sunday night in Atlanta, where Gonzalez tossed seven strong innings and helped them sweep the Braves.
But as nice as it was to fly to South Florida 2.5 games up on the Mets, and 3.5 games up on the third-place Marlins in the National League East, the Nats do feel a little sleep deprived.
"I'm excited to be home," Gonzalez said. "But man am I tired. We're all just trying to stay awake."
The 26-year old All-Star left-hander, who grew up in Hialeah and whom the Marlins made a push to get from Oakland this off-season, is now tied for the major league lead in wins with seven after beating ERA-leader Brandon Beachy Sunday. Gonzalez, however, is all by himself atop the league in strikeouts with 79. His ERA (2.04) ranks third in the NL.
The Marlins made their pitch to get Gonzalez from the A's this off-season. In the end, they just didn't have as much to offer as the Nationals, who gave up three talented prospects to pry him loose. Gonzalez said as nice as it would have been to pitch for the Marlins and in front of his friends and family every fifth day, it probably works out better for his wallet that he doesn't.
"In the beginning it sounded amazing -- new ballpark, my home team," Gonzalez said. "And then when you start coming down to it, Washington was probably the best thing that could happen to me.
"I can come home and say 'Hi' and then go away. I can't imagine having to get all these tickets every time I pitched."
Although Gonzalez won't be pitching against the Marlins in any of their meetings over the next three days that hasn't stopped friends and family from bombarding the him with ticket requests for the next couple days.
"I've been getting non-stop text messages and phone calls from everybody," said Gonzalez, who was part of two state championship teams at Hialeah High before leaving for and graduating from Monsignor Pace in 2004. "My mom is like, 'You've got a big pass list. You've got over 100 tickets.' I'm like, 'Hey, I don't know who they think they are, but 100 tickets is expensive man.'"
Gonzalez said he's left about 10 tickets each day for close relatives, and the Marlins are assisting him by allowing other family members and friends to buy group tickets at a discounted rate.
"I have to thank the Marlins -- they've provided them with good seats under my name," Gonzalez said. "Those fans that were going to pay so much more, they got a discount.
"One guy alone told me he was going to buy 50 tickets. Another member of the family bought tickets. Then, I've got my church from Hialeah coming. My old high school baseball team, too. My friends I grew up with. My brother's friends. I'm just excited. I know something cool is going to happen. Miami is going to welcome their Hialeah kid home."
If the Nationals rotation stays in order and there aren't any rainouts over the next month and a half, Gonzalez would be in-line to pitch at Marlins Park right after the All-Star Break, July 15th.
> Veteran outfielder Austin Kearns, on the 15-day disabled list since May 23rd with a right hamstring strain, believes he'll be ready to go once he's eligible to be reinstated June 7th.
"I think that's a possibility," Kearns said Monday. "We'll see when we start doing more. I've been riding bike, walking on the treadmill, took swings off the tee. It seems like it is getting better each day."
Kearns injured his hamstring while scoring from first base on a Giancarlo Stanton double last Tuesday against the Rockies. He's batting .375 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 48 at-bats in 22 games.
> It might not be long before we see Gaby Sanchez again.
The former All-Star first baseman has produced a hit in all eight games he's played in since being demoted to Triple A New Orleans on May 19th. Sanchez went into Monday's game hitting .346 with a home run and four RBI. He's walked eight times and also has an on base percentage of .514.
Sanchez is eligible to be brought back up on Wednesday -- Gaby Sanchez t-shirt day at Marlins Park.
> Nationals (29-18): 1. Steve Lombardozzi LF, 2. Bryce Harper RF, 3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B, 4. Adam LaRoche 1B, 5. Ian Desmond SS, 6. Danny Espinosa 2B, 7. Rick Ankiel CF, 8. Carlos Maldonado C, 9. Ryan Zimmerman P.
> Marlins (26-22): 1. Jose Reyes SS, 2. Omar Infante 2B, 3. Hanley Ramirez 3B, 4. Giancarlo Stanton RF, 5. Logan Morrison 1B, 6. Bryan Petersen CF, 7. John Buck C, 8. Chris Coghlan LF, 9. Carlos Zambrano P.
While Giancarlo Stanton is challenging a Marlins record for most home runs in a month, he says he's a lot prouder of the rise in his batting average than he is in the big blasts. Stanton has walloped 10 homers in May -- two shy of Dan Uggla's one-month mark of 12 (May, 2008). But he's hitting .333 in May, bringing his average up to .296 overall.
"I don't like having a low average, period," Stanton said. "I don't like a 1-for-5 with a homer. Everyone else is like 'great game' because you hit a homer. But I really don't like it. That's the kind of hitter I've been working to be and always wanted to be."
Stanton credits Jeff Conine for part of his hitting surge.
"Conine told me something about what I was doing in batting practice that I wasn't doing in April," Stanton said. "I hit all my rounds to right field last year. He was wondering why I didn't do that again this year. I just wasn't going only to right field. Now I'm back to that."
Heath Bell is still the closer.
"This is a very touchy, sensitive point," Guillen said. "I keep saying, and I told him a couple of minutes ago, it's going to be hard for us to win if Heath Bell is not our closer. It's easier for everyone if this kid comes out and does what he's done in the past. We've got to get him back on track. The only way to get him back on track, we have to build his confidence. Maybe a lot of people don't believe that. But I'm the manager and I'm not going to kick the guy when he's down. I will take full responsibility if we fail in that department. My job is to put him there and create more confidence.
"It's easy to criticize, it's easy to bury somebody when he's down. I think my job is to continue to believe in him. He's not hurt. He still throws pretty good. I wish he'd throw more strikes. So does he. But I will bite the bullet from the fans, from the front office, from everybody."
Outfielder Justin Ruggiano was added to the Marlins roster on Sunday one day after being obtained in a trade with the Houston Astros. Guillen says he'll use Ruggiano the same way he used Kearns, off the bench and as a starting corner outfielder when the opposition sends out a lefty starter.
"We need a right-handed hitter that can come off the bench," Guillen said. "You can see yesterday we had to put Solano out there. He can play the corners. Coghlan and Petersen are going to be in center field."
The Marlins optioned OF Kevin Mattison to Triple A New Orleans and transferred RHP Jose Ceda to the 60-day disabled list.
MARLINS: 1. Reyes, ss; 2. Infante, 2b; 3. Ramirez, 3b; 4. Stanton, rf; 5. Morrison; 1b; 6. Petersen, cf; 7. Buck, c; 8. Coghlan, lf; 9. Nolasco, p.
GIANTS: 1. Blanco, rf; 2. Crawford, ss; 3. Cabrera, lf; 4. Posey, c; 5. Pagan,cf; 6. Huff, 1b; 7. Arias, 3b; 8. Theriot, 2b; 9. Cain, p.
Ozzie Guillen didn't care for Heath Bell's pitch selection in Friday's near-catastrophe, and in particular the 2-1 curveball that Bell threw to Joaquin Arias, the Giants' leadoff hitter in the ninth, with the Marlins ahead by three runs. Arias took the pitch for a ball and eventually doubled on a 3-2 fastball to set the stage for a Giants rally and Bell's exit. Steve Cishek was brought in to replace Bell and preserve the 7-6 victory.
"That's bad pitch selection," Guillen said Friday.
On Saturday, Guillen's opinion hadn't changed.
"When you're up by three runs, the pitch selection was very poor," Guillen said. "I want him to be aggerssive with his fastball. That's the best pitch he has. The breaking ball is not working every once in a while. Just give people your fastball. I will take that."
But Bell said he thought the pitch was appropriate for the situation.
"I felt like I should have thrown a breaking ball in that situation, and I've done that in the past," Bell said. "Anybody can second-guess me anyway they want, but I've pitched a certain way -- and the key word is "pitched" -- and I'll throw any pitch at any given time. And I'm not going to back down on my pitching style. I'm not going to second-guess some of the pitches I throw."
Bell said he has had no conversations with Guillen since the season started. He said he spoke frequently with San Diego Padres manager Bud Black during his time there, but also pointed out that Black is a former big-league pitcher. Bell said he didn't have many conversations with Mets managers Willie Randolph and Art Howe, either.
"Ozzie doesn't talk to me very often," Bell said. "I don't know if there's a language barrier, or what. I'm open to talk. I have talked to him in the past. I like him as a manager. I like him as a guy, even before he was my manager. I had some conversations in spring training with him, but I really haven't sat down and talked pitching with him."
Guillen said he still considers Bell to be his closer, but added that had a bad "gut feeling" about Bell early on in Friday's ninth inning and decided to take him out after the pitcher gave up hits to three of the first four San Francisco batters.
"He's my guy," Guillen said. "Nobody's going to change my mind. But, last night for some reason, my gut feeling wasn't what I wanted. There's nothing harder in baseball than when you take your pitcher out, especially your closer, because you don't want to take their confidence."
Marlins trade for outfield depth -- The Marlins acquired veteran outfielder Justin Ruggiano on Saturday from the Houston Astros in exchange for minor-league catcher Jobduan Morales. Ruggiano, 30, has a .226 average in parts of three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. This season, Ruggiano is hitting .325 with five home runs for Triple A Oklahoma City.
Ruggiano hit .248 with four home runs in 105 at bats for the Rays last season. Ruggiano was assigned to Triple A New Orleans.
Morales, a former ninth-round pick, spent last season at Single A Greensboro and Jamestown, where he hit .275 in 55 games. He has spent the 2012 at extended spring training.
Chris Coghlan has a ritual before every trip to the plate. He kisses his bat. Call it a fetish.
"I love the smell of the smell of the bat -- the ash -- for some reason," Coghlan said. "And I kiss it for good luck."
Until Friday, it hadn't done him much good. When he stepped inside the batter's box to face Tim Lincecum in the sixth inning, Coghlan's .104 average ranked as the absolute worst in the majors (minimum of 50 plate appearances). He had not hit a home run since June of last season.
"You're not up there thinking I'm hitting whatever you're hitting," Coghlan said. "I honestly don't know what I'm hitting. I just know it's not good. But every time you step in the box, you try to feel like you're hitting 1.000."
Coghlan, with his .104 average and zero home runs, laid into a hanging curve thrown by Lincecum for a 3-year-run swat that helped decide the outcome of the Marlins' 7-6 victory. It was his second home run off Lincecum, but his first since the 2009 season when he was Rookie of the Year. Remarkably, while Coghlan has hit only 20 home runs in the majors, half have come agaisnt just five pitchers: Lincecum; Cole Hamels, Jon Garland, Tim Redding and Fernando Nieve. He's hit two HRs each against those five hurlers. He's hit a grand total of 10 home runs against all of the other 247 pitchers he's faced.
Coghlan is now hitting .120. That's still the worst average in the majors. But he's back in the lineup this afternoon. Also, Donovan Solano will be making his first major league start, and it's coming at a position at which he has almost no experience: left field.
MARLINS: 1. Reyes, ss; 2. Infante, 2b; 3. Ramirez, 3b; 4. Stanton, rf; 5. Morrison, 1b; 6, Solano, lf; 7. Coghlan, cf; 8. Buck, c; 9. Buehrle, p.