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58 posts from May 2012

May 09, 2012

Heath Bell says he's patiently waiting to get his job back

HOUSTON -- Since blowing his fourth save of the season last Friday in San Diego, former closer Heath Bell has been relatively quiet in the Marlins clubhouse. 

"I've been watching a great team play baseball and go out and kick some butt," Bell said before Wednesday's game in Houston.

With starting pitchers going deep into games there hasn't been much opportunity for the bullpen to see action. Guillen said he's wanted to use Bell in the sixth or seventh inning -- or even in the ninth if the Marlins have a cushion -- before getting Bell back into the closer's role. 

So far, though, Bell has just been a spectator.

"I'm going to pitch when Ozzie tells me to pitch. Plain and simple. He's the manager. He's going to put me in when he thinks its time for me to come in. And I'm okay with that," Bell sid. "But I want my job back.

"... If he pitches me the first inning, second inning, ninth inning, it doesn't matter. When Ozzie puts me out there to pitch I'm going to go out there and shove it up whoever I'm facing. That's pretty much it."

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire said Bell, like struggling starter Josh Johnson, is simply pressing.

"I don't think it's so much of a confidence thing," St. Claire said Wednesday. "I don't think Albert Pujols lost his confidence. I don't think Jose Reyes has lost his confidence. I just think [Johnson and Bell] want to do well so bad -- because they're so used to doing well -- that the pressure of wanting to do well is getting to them and they're not letting it happen.

"When you do things and try to create things that's when issues start happening. I think they'll be fine."

Bonifacio out of the top of the lineup -- for now according to Guillen

HOUSTON -- Through the Marlins' first 30 games Emilio Bonifacio has hit in either the first or second spot in the lineup. Game 31 on Wednesday will be different.

Bonifacio, who leads the National League with 15 stolen bases, has been dropped to 7th in the order -- a move manager Ozzie Guillen said he's making to try to take a little pressure of the struggling center fielder.

"We just want him to relax a little bit... try to get him out of a tough spot -- the pressure to be on base and do stuff for the team," Guillen said. "Hopefully we can put him down a couple days and get him back to where he belongs."

"Boni, when he gets hot, he's very hot. When he's cold 'Wow.' I don't know why. This guy's game is running, speeding. He's struggled on this road trip. Hopefully we move him down for a couple days and then back up. I think we have a better team with Boni in the top of the lineup."

Since starting the season hitting .348 through the first dozen games, Bonifacio gone just 11 for his last 70 at the plate (.157) with nine walks and 18 strikeouts.

"It's no big deal," Bonifacio said. "I have no problem with that... I think right now I've been swinging at pitches outside of the zone. This doesn't change anything. I just have to get on base, get base hits and swing at good pitches."

Donnie Murphy, starting in place of Omar Infante at second base, will hit second behind Jose Reyes. Giancarlo Stanton, who had his 10-game hitting streak snapped Tuesday, has moved up a spot to fifth. He's hitting .308 with six home runs and 12 RBI over his last 11 games.

Asked if Infante (.309, 6 HRs, 13 RBI) might be his option to hit second if Bonifacio continues to struggle, Guillen was non-commital.

"He can be a good one," Guillen said. "But at the same time I don't want to leave the back of the lineup dry. I want to have somebody batting 5th, 6th helping too. I want to keep Boni in the top and not try to change the lineup too much."

> Guillen said he wanted to try and give Hanley Ramirez his first day off this season while getting Murphy at-bats. But Ramirez insisted on staying in the lineup. Guillen said he then decided to give Infante the day off to rest his legs. Infante has been battling hamstring issues all season.

LINEUP

> Marlins (15-15): 1. Jose Reyes SS, 2. Donnie Murphy 2B, 3. Hanley Ramirez 3B, 4. Logan Morrison LF, 5. Giancarlo Stanton, 6. Greg Dobbs 1B, 7. Emilio Bonifacio CF, 8. John Buck C, 9. Josh Johnson P.

> Astros (14-16): 1. Jordan Schafer CF, 2. Jose Altuve, 3. Jed Lowrie SS, 4. Carlos Lee 1B, 5. Travis Buck LF, 6. Chris Johnson 3B, 7. Brian Bogusevic RF, 8. Chris Snyer C, 9. Lucas Harrell P.

With win Wednesday Marlins can close out winningest road trip ever

HOUSTON -- The Marlins can no longer close out their nine-game road trip with a perfect record, but they can still make history with a win Wednesday at Minute Maid Park over the Astros.

Until now, the most victories the Marlins have picked up on a road trip is seven. They did it twice -- going 7-5 from June 13-26, 2005 (Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, Rays) and 7-4 from May 28-June 6, 2007 (Cubs, Brewers, Braves).

But with a win Wednesday the Fish will have finished this road trip through San Francisco, San Diego and Houston with an 8-1 record. 

Technically, their best road trip was when they went a perfect 5-0 from May 13-18th, 1997 (with two wins in Atlanta and three in Pittsburgh). But most wins on a road trip certainly sounds better doesn't it?

The key of course on this road trip has been dominant starting pitching. Even though the team's seven-game winning streak was snapped Tuesday night, Anibal Sanchez delivered another quality start, giving up two unearned runs over seven innings.

Marlins starters have combined to post an eye-opening ERA of 1.77 on the trip -- and that's including the six earned runs Josh Johnson gave up in just 2 2/3 innings in San Diego last Friday.

Take away JJ's horrific outing and the other four guys -- Sanchez, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Buehrle and Ricky Nolasco -- have combined for a 0.84 ERA in six starts. That's five earned runs in 53 1/3 innings of work on the road.

Zambrano has been the best of them all, leading the way with 16 scoreless innings and allowing just eight hits while striking out 14. He tossed his first complete game shutout in three years Monday against the Astros.

Sanchez, meanwhile, struck out 13 in 14 innings of work and allowed just one earned run, lowering his ERA to 2.04 on the year. He went into Wednesday's game as the National League leader in strikeouts.

Buehrle tossed a complete game at San Diego, giving up one run, a day after the bullpen was exhausted in a 12-inning victory.

Nolasco won both of his starts and gave up just three runs in 14 1/3 innings. In the process, Nolasco tied Dontrelle Willis’ club record with 68 wins.

> Check back later for tonight's lineup against the Astros.

May 08, 2012

Infante: "It was an easy ground ball... I feel terrible."

HOUSTON -- When it comes to sure-handed second baseman, few are better than the Marlins Omar Infante. Tuesday night, Infante finally looked human -- making two errors on the same play during a costly sequence in the sixth inning.

Infante said afterward it's the first time in his career he's made two errors on the same play.

“It was an easy ground ball,” Infante said. “When I didn't catch it, I hurried up the throw. I don't know where I threw it. I just feel bad because Anibal [Sanchez] pitched a great game. I feel sad for Anibal. I feel terrible.”

The Marlins (15-15) came in having made 20 errors in their first 29 games, tied for 11th worst among all major league teams. But the two Infante was charged with Tuesday were killer.

Until then, Sanchez looked like he was inline to pick up his third win of the season. Instead, he settled for a no decision despite striking out eight and giving up just five hits to go with his two unearned runs. Sanchez (2-0) still lowered his ERA to 2.01 on the season. His 46 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings now lead the National League.

Afterward, Sanchez was supportive of his teammate. On the way out of the clubhouse, Sanchez tapped Infante on the rear-end as told him "let it go" in Spanish.

“That's part of the game,” Sanchez said of Infante’s errors. “I don't have any concern about it. He's one of the best second baseman in the game, has the best hands in the major leagues. He's not perfect. I know he didn't want to make any mistakes -- especially in that situation. I'm going to support him.”

POSTGAME AUDIO

 

OZZIE GUILLEN

ANIBAL SANCHEZ

OMAR INFANTE

 

Buck: JJ's slider lacks consistent sharpness

HOUSTON -- With a pitching staff that's posted the sixth lowest ERA in baseball, Marlins catcher John Buck has been having a pretty good time behind the plate this season.

Guillen, Buck, JJBuck, though, would like for his buddy Josh Johnson to join in the fun, too.

After missing the final four months of the 2011 season with shoulder issues, the two-time All-Star and opening day starter hasn't had much of it. He's gone 0-3 with a horrific 6.61 ERA (which going into Tuesday's game in Houston ranked 109th out of 113 major leaguers with at least five starts).

Wednesday night, Johnson will head back to the mound against the Astros at Minute Paid Park hoping to pick up his first win since he beat the Pirates at Sun Life Stadium on April 19, 2011.

Johnson reiterated Tuesday health isn't an issue. His catcher backs him up on that.

"He's not the type of guy to sugar coat it. If he felt off, he'd say he feels off," Buck said.

Where Johnson is having issues, Buck said, is in "the sharpness of his pitches." Buck said the lack of success Johnson has had with his go-to pitch -- his slider -- has affected him the most.

"That sharpness that makes people swing and miss, or they know it's coming and look for it and they still can't hit it -- it just hasn't had that," Buck said. "If they see it they can put it in play, they're able to battle it off and stay alive and wait for him to make a mistake later in the sequence. That's the difference."

Buck said while Johnson has shown effectiveness with his pitches at times, he's had trouble "repeating his delivery... so he gets the same production out of that pitch."

Buck maintains Johnson's velocity "is pretty much there," but the consistency just isn't.

According to FanGraphs.com, which charts pitches and speed, Johnson has used his fastball just 56.4 percent of the time this season -- 8.5 percent less than his career average. The velocity according to Fangraphs is 92.7 miles per hour -- 1.2 miles per hour than his career average.

Johnson said that what he learned from his last start Friday in San Diego -- which lasted just 2 2/3 innings because gave up a season-high six earned runs -- is that he's "got to keep the ball down."

"Every hit was up," Johnson said. "Just get the ball down... That's a better recipe for success than keeping the ball over the plate."

While the rest of the Marlins starting rotation has shined by going at least six innings in 23 of the team's first 29 games (fourth most in the majors) with a combined ERA of 2.50, Johnson has only made it through six innings in half of his starts.

The fact he's not carrying his own weight frustrates him the most. "Everybody's throwing well and I want to throw well too," Johnson said. "I'm a competitor... it's frustrating."

If there is an encouraging sign for Johnson is that he isn't getting killed. Of the 47 hits he's given up in 31 1/3 innings, only eight have gone for extra bases and none of those hits are home runs.

"It's a game of inches," Johnson said. "If half of those pitches are an inch down or a little more off the corner they're not hits. They're outs. But it's how the game goes."

Marlins bullpen well rested heading into Tuesday's game in Houston

HOUSTON -- After working their butts off in relief of Josh Johnson Friday in San Diego and working overtime to save Heath Bell's rear-end two nights prior to that in San Francisco, the Marlins bullpen has to feel pretty well rested heading into Tuesday night's game at Minute Maid Park.

With Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano tossing complete games two of the last three nights, Marlins relievers have played the role of happy spectator for the most part.

New closer Steve Cishek, who worked a career-high three innings of relief Friday to pick up the win, has had three days off. Edward Mujica has pitched just once over the last four days.

Right-hander Ryan Webb, who along with left-handed specialist Randy Choate and Mujica are the only relievers to work since Saturday, said despite Bell's struggles the bullpen has proven over this 7-0 West Coast trip it can get the job done in some pressure situations.

"That's what you need," Webb said. "That's what's going to count. Our goal is to get to the postseason, and that's going to help in the postseason. That's going to help in a tight race at the end of the year in this tough division.

"We're going to be playing some good teams, but we've got a good team too. So we've played a lot of close games, a lot of good pitching matchups. So to get the experience early is good for a lot of guys, especially for some of the younger guys that we do have, stepping up to do these late-inning roles. We've got guys that can pitch in all those situations. So it gives [manager] Ozzie [Guillen] a lot of options to go to."

Take Bell (0-3, 4 blown saves, 11.42 ERA) and demoted left-hander Mike Dunn out of the mix and the Marlins bullpen would rank much better than sixth in the National League in ERA (3.45 ERA). They also might not rank right behind Colorado for the league-lead with seven blown saves.

Together, Webb, Cishek, Mujica, Choate, and right-hander Chad Gaudin have combined for a 1.81 ERA in 59 2/3 innings with 49 strikeouts and 21 walks. Opponents have hit just .189 off those five in 216 at-bats.

> The Marlins are off to their best May start in franchise history. The previous best start was 5-2, done three times (last, 2008). The Marlins finished that month with a 16-11 record, which tied for the most May wins in Club history (also, 1997 and 1996). The Franchise record for most wins in any month is 19, done in August 1997.

TUESDAY'S LINEUP

> Marlins (15-14): 1. Jose Reyes SS, 2. Emilio Bonifacio CF, 3. Hanley Ramirez 3B, 4. Logan Morrison LF, 5. Omar Infante 2B, 6. Giancarlo Stanton RF, 7. Gaby Sanchez 1B, 8. John Buck C, 9. Anibal Sanchez P.

May 07, 2012

Renewed faith, Zambrano says, has helped lead to his turnaround

HOUSTON -- Carlos Zambrano tossed a complete game, three-hit shutout Monday and picked up his first win in a Marlins uniform.

ZambranoThe first thing Zambrano did to celebrate? Point to the sky. It was his way of thanking the spirit above, whom he believes has led to his turnaround not just on the field, but off it.

"To be honest, God changed my life," Zambrano told reporters after the Marlins won their seventh in a row Monday, setting a new franchise record for wins on a road trip.

"Before I was on my own... Now, I'm pitching smiling because God is in my heart. When God is in your heart, nothing is frustrating. Nothing bothers you. You're focused on what you have to do. Because you have God, you can do pretty much anything."

Zambrano, 30, said he grew up going to church with his parents in Venezuela. But for some reason, he said, he stopped going.

"My communication stopped. Things were getting frustrating. Things were getting out of control," Zambrano said. "Now, I don't see my life without Jesus. Last year when I was suspended I went to a youth reunion in Venezuela and God spoke to my life. Since then I've been seeing more God's hands on my life. I don't know if people believe in God, but I do."

Believe what you want to believe, Zambrano says.

What's not up for debate is that after six starts with the Marlins Zambrano has a 1.98 ERA and 32 strikeouts opposite 14 walks. His command Monday was stellar according to catcher John Buck.

"His ball is moving all over the place and when he's able to control that sinker and his cutter that's provides a lot of options for me," Buck said. "And then when you saw that split finger. He was making that plate feel wide to those hitters and keeping that split low in the zone.

"Obviously so many people gave up on him for one reason or another. Since he walked in here he's been nothing but awesome every way you can think of it... he's kind of a favorite in this clubhouse."

Zambrano threw 110 pitches Monday, 69 for strikes.

Manager Ozzie Guillen said the fact Hanley Ramirez padded the lead with a solo shot and the team was able to turn a 3-6-3 double play in the ninth helped make the decision of leaving Zambrano in there easier.

POSTGAME AUDIO (CLICK TO HEAR INTERVIEWS)

CARLOS ZAMBRANO

 

JOHN BUCK

OZZIE GUILLEN

 

Different hand placement, approach have helped Stanton break out of early struggles at the plate

Four inches. 

Giancarlo StantonThat's what's made all the difference in Giancarlo Stanton's swing since the end of April.

"Basically, I'm keeping my hands about four inches further back," said Stanton, who is hitting .344 with two doubles, five home runs and nine RBI since April 28th. "Keep them here and the shoulder stays down. Four damn inches is the whole thing."

Well, four inches and a better approach -- one that relies less on trying to destroy the ball and more on trying to put backspin on it.

Hitting coach Eduardo Perez said creating more backspin on swings has been something he's trying to get all Marlins hitters to do more of this season because of the larger dimensions at Marlins Park. Instead of just crushing the ball and see it fly out of Sun Life Stadium like they did in the past, Perez said his hitters realized through a painful month of April that creating backspin is a necessary ingredient to hitting success.

"Flyballs don't get out of that ballpark," Perez said. "What gets out is line drives. I think you saw it early in the [Cubs] series with Hanley the way he hit those home runs to straight away center. It was more of a line drive. Left-center is a line drive. Those balls have to have backspin in order to leave that ballpark.

"Can the ballpark hold these guys? No. But you have to have the right approach. Right now, we're working on approach more than anything. We have to be able to backspin baseballs. We have to use gap to gap [hitting]. We have to be conscious of base hits, starting rallies and keeping the lines moving. That's the way to go there."

The Marlins hit just .228 in the month of April and produced a franchise-low 73 runs. At home, the they actually hit better than they did on the road, posting a .255 average with 46 runs scored in 11 games. But they hit just nine home runs at Marlins Park and had a lot of long, meaningless fly ball outs.

"I don't think it was about listening to me. I think it was about their experiences," Perez said. "You could see their flustered faces on the way back to the dugout. They were like 'Wow. I got a hold of that.' Or, I hit it well and in a lot of ballparks it goes.' Well, no. You got to get some backspin on it. We get some backspin going the ball is going to go no matter what.

"You look at Murph. Right now, he calls himself the all-time leader in home runs at the stadium. He's turning on pitches on the inside part, has good backspin on it and it goes. It's a matter of having the right approach, looking for the pitch you have to look for and driving the ball to the gaps. If you get out it front, with that rotation, it's going to go [out]. I don't care who you are -- how big or how small. If you try to lift, my friend you're in for a long night."

Stanton said before he adjusted his swing he felt like he had hit "maybe three home runs" out at Marlins Park only to be disappointed to see them land in opposing mitts as outs. Before his three-run blast to center on April 29th, Stanton went a career-long 97 at-bats and 27 games without a home run.

"I had some line drives too that just didn't go far enough either," Stanton said. "The same ones I got in Frisco -- my homers in Frisco -- those wouldn't have gone out at home.

"For guys like me, Gaby [Sanchez], [John Buck], we kind of hit those high fly balls if we're going to hit homers. Now, those are routine fly balls at home. It's just more stick to the gaps and line drive approach like we've been doing. Hanley's balls. My balls in Frisco. Subconsciously you see that big ballpark and you try to put a little more into it. But that's what you have to stay away from."

> Manager Ozzie Guillen said he thought about putting Stanton back in the cleanup spot Monday in Houston, but decided against it.

"LoMo is hitting about .500 against the kid who is pitching today -- Wandy," Guillen said. "But [aside from that] I think when you're winning you try to leave stuff as it is, make it easy for everyone. I'm not going to start moving people around and start playing around with the lineups when you're winning."

MONDAY'S LINEUPS

> Marlins (14-14): 1. Jose Reyes SS, 2. Emilio Bonifacio CF, 3. Hanley Ramirez SS, 4. Logan Morrison LF, 5. Omar Infante 2B, 6. Giancarlo Stanton RF, 7. Gaby Sanchez 1B, 8. John Buck C, 9. Carlos Zambrano P.

> Astros (13-15): 1. Jordan Schafer CF, 2. Jose Altuve 2B, 3. J.D. Martinez LF, 4. Carlos Lee 1B, 5. Jed Lowrie SS, 6. Chris Johnson 3B, 7. Travis Buck RF, 8. Chris Snyder C, 9. Wandy Rodriguez P.

May 06, 2012

Marlins on cusp of best-ever road trip

    SAN DIEGO -- By sweeping the Giants and Padres in San Francisco and San Diego, respectively, the Marlins are on the brink of having the best road trip any Marlins team has ever had. To do it, they need only win one game in the upcoming Astros series in Houston.

    That would give them seven wins on this out-of-town trek, and no Marlins team has ever won that many contests on a nine-game junket. 6-3 is tops, and it's been done more than a few times. Yes, the Padres are miserably bad. And the Marlins managed to avoid facing Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner during the series in San Fran.

     But they face bad teams on the road every season.

     Before anyone gets too carried away, though, remember that the Marlins barely scraped by the Giants, winning each of those three games by one run. They also pulled out a one-run win in their first game in San Diego. So it's not like they plowed over the Giants and Padres. Even Ozzie Guillen admitted to us today that the Marlins are "catching some breaks." (Like two runs scoring this afternoon when former Marlin John Baker allowed two pitches to get by him for passed balls in the same inning.)

      Another important note: the Marlins won the first six games of a trip once before only to be swept on the final stop. It was April of 2009 -- not even that long ago -- and the Marlins swept the Braves in Atlanta and Nationals in D.C. before being swept themselves in Pittsburgh to conclude that trip.

       Also, as another side note, the franchise record for wins on a road trip is seven, and it's been done twice -- once in 2005 and again in 2007. But one was a 12-game road trip and the other was an 11-gamer.

      Two wins in Houston would eclipse everything, and it would allow the Marlins (14-14) to return home with a winning record overall. 

Milestone Day? Marlins go for sweep in San Diego

      SAN DIEGO -- Ricky Nolasco will be bidding for his 68th career win with the Marlins when he takes the mound here at Petco Park in a bit. That would put him in a tie with Dontrelle Willis atop the franchise's all-time list.

       The Marlins are also going for their second straight series sweep on the road, something they've accomplished only once before on the same trip. They also swept back-to-back three-game sets at Atlanta and Washington to open a trip in 2009 and  With five wins already under their belt on a trip that continues on Monday in Houston, the Marlins can also begin thinking about the team record for most wins on a road trip -- 7. They've done that twice before, going 7-5 on a 2005 trip to Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Tampa Bay and 7-4 during a 2007 trip to Chicago, Milwaukee and Atlanta.

       More on Mark Buehrle's complete game yesterday. It was the first by a Marlins left-hander since Willis tossed a nine-inning shutout against Philadelphia on Sept. 10, 2006.

       Here are your lineups:

       Marlins: 1. Jose Reyes, ss; 2. Emilio Bonifacio, cf; 3. Hanley Ramirez, 3b; 4. Logan Morrison, lf; 5. Omar Infante, 2b; 6. Giancarlo Stanton, rf; 7. Gaby Sanchez, 1b; 8. John Buck, c; 9. Ricky Nolasco, p.

       Padres: 1. Will Venable, rf; 2. Mark Kotsay, lf; 3. Chase Headley, 3b; 4. Yonder Alonso, 1b; 5. Orlando Hudson, 2b; 6. Cameron Maybin, cf; 7. John Baker, c; 8. Andy Parrino, ss; 9. Joe Wieland, p.

       Umpires: HP -- Lance Barksdale; 1B -- Fieldin Culbreth; 2B -- Adrian Johnson; 3B -- Gary Cederstrom.