JUPITER -- As the manager of Venezuela's World Baseball Classic tournament team former major leaguer Luis Sojo said he often got early morning phone calls from his country's president Hugo Chavez.
"He was a man of baseball," Sojo said Tuesday night, less than an hour after Chavez passed away following a battle with cancer. "He was always aware of the team and who was on it. He was the first call I got in the morning during the tournaments in 2006 and 2009. He lived for baseball.
"It's always sad when someone dies. He was a human being, a president, a man who battled a lot for his life. He asked his family for peace. We're in a tough situation in our country right now. God has [Chavez] now."
The Venezuelan national team, in town to play the Marlins in an exhibition game Tuesday and the Cardinals Wednesday afternoon, requested a moment of silence before the first pitch of Tuesday's game. But we've been told MLB turned them down. The Venezuelan national flag stood at half staff for several minutes while the team took batting practice at Roger Dean Stadium. But it was eventually returned to full staff.
A spokesman for the Venezuelan team told reporters Hector Rodriguez, the country's minister of sports, relayed the following message to the baseball team before the game: "Please tell the guys to concentrate on sports and leave the political stuff out."
Two Venezuelan players are expected to speak with reporters after tonight's game.
As for this year's star-studded Venezuelan team, which lost in the semifinals of the WBC tournament in 2009, Sojo said: "This group of guys -- they want to win. They know what to do to get that goal. In our meetings we see guys, it’s all about winning. There's nothing else. I would say it’s a great team. But on paper it doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to perform on the field. We've got the guys who know how to play the game."
Former Marlins pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who pitched for Fish in 2012, is starting Tuesday's game. He pitched for Sojo in the Venezuelan Winter League team and led his team to a title. Zambrano remains a free agent.
"He looks so good right now, he's in good shape," Sojo said. "He's very professional. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to get a contract after the classic."
Venezuela faces a powerful Dominican Republic team Thursday night in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Venezuelans and Dominicans are expected to emerge from Pool C, which also features Puerto Rico and Spain. If Venezuela advances it would play at Marlins Park next week.
"No doubt," Sojo said of having a home field advantage in Miami. "It happened in 2009. We played USA in Miami twice. There is a lot of Venezuelans, a lot of Cuban community there and no doubt [the USA] would be the visiting team."
JUPITER -- The first time Jacob Turner took the mound for the Marlins this spring he couldn't get out of the first inning. He hit a batter, walked three, gave up four hits and six earned runs in just a third of an inning against the Cardinals last Thursday.
His second start -- in a 'B Game' against the Mets played on a backfield behind Roger Dean Stadium -- went a lot smoother. The 21-year old right-hander, acquired in the deal that sent Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers, tossed two scoreless innings Tuesday morning, walking two, striking out one and throwing 13 of his 24 pitches for strikes.
"I felt more comfortable this time out," said Turner, who prior to the start of spring was projected to be the team's No. 2 starter behind Ricky Nolasco. "I felt like there were a couple of times it maybe got a little of sync timing wise. Other than that, I threw a lot of good quality pitches I wanted to throw. I'm getting back to the plan on the fastball, getting ground balls and just pitching to my strengths."
Manager Mike Redmond and pitching coach Chuck Hernandez both were encouraged.
"He had better rhythm in his delivery, throwing the ball downhill a little bit better," Hernandez said. "Today was a step forward in getting him back on track a little bit."
Redmond said while the first four slots in the top of the rotation are "close to being set... there is a still couple question marks."
"We're counting on guys like him to go out there and pitch in that rotation, pound the strike zone and give us a chance to win," Redmond said. "At the same time too they're young. You always have to keep that in the back of your mind. He's only a [21-year old] kid. He has great stuff and we have time throughout this spring training to get him to pound the strike zone."
> After missing a start Sunday and another Tuesday because of a strained back, third baseman Placido Polanco is expected to be back in the lineup Wednesday, Redmond said. Polanco went through full team activities Tuesday including fielding ground balls.
> Pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs has a strained calf according to Redmond. Dobbs hasn't played since Feb. 24. "He's going to run [Wednesday]," Redmond said. "He should be game ready in the next couple days."
> Kolby Copeland, a 2012 third round pick and minor league outfield prospect for the Marlins, received a 50-game suspension on Tuesday for refusing to take an offseason drug test. His suspension will begin at the start of the season.
Copeland is on the roster of the Class A Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League. Copeland, 19, batted .280 with 34 RBIs in 62 games between the Marlins' rookie-level affiliate and Class A Jamestown last season.
> Redmond's take on facing a team Venezuela: "For Infante to be sitting on the bench on any team is kind of funny. I laugh. That's a good team. They're loaded. It will be a nice challenge for our pitching staff."
> Venezuela: 1. Elvis Andrus SS, 2. Asdrubal Cabrera DH, 3. Miguel Cabrera 1B, 4. Pablo Sandoval 3B, 5. Carlos Gonzalez RF, 6. Miguel Montero C, 7. Martin Prado LF, 8. Gerardo Parra CF, 9. Marco Scutaro 2B. RHP Carlos Zambrano
> Marlins: 1. Juan Pierre LF, 2. Donovan Solano 2B, 3. Rob Brantly C, 4. Kevin Kouzmanoff DH, 5. Casey Kotchman 1B, 6. Adeiny Hechavarria SS, 7. Chris Coghlan LF, 8. Chone Figgins 3B, 9. Kevin Mattison CF. LHP Wade LeBlanc.