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36 posts from March 2013

March 31, 2013

Jose Fernandez makes Opening Day roster; Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez to DL

       WASHINGTON -- The Marlins delivered quite a baseball bombshell this morning in the nation's capital when they announced that rookie right-hander Jose Fernandez had made the club while starters Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez had been placed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder injuries that are not deemed serious.

       Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest delivered the news to reporters shortly before the team's workout at Nationals Park.

       "I think it's been tugging at all of us a little bit," Beinfest said of the decision to place Fernandez on the 25-man roster. "We watched him in big league camp. We watched him go down to the minor leagues, where he was outstanding. When we got word that Alvarez was not going to make Opening Day, we started talking about what we were going to do to fill in. Jose was always there. The sense was this kid's ready to handle it. He's ready to pitch."

       Fernandez is scheduled to make his major league debut next Sunday in New York when he starts against the Mets.

       "I'm in shock," Fernandez said. "I'm speechless."

       The original plan was for Fernandez to start the season at Double A Jacksonville. But that all changed when the injuries began piling up in the rotation. First it was Alvarez. Then it was Eovaldi, who had a MRI on Friday, which revealed mild inflammation in his right shoulder. The diagnosis was the same for Alvarez. Both were placed on 3-to-5 day "no throw" and Beinfest said both pitchers are expected to be out no more than a month at most.

        The Marlins have called up right-hander Alex Sanabia from Triple A New Orleans to fill one of the open spots in the rotation. Fernandez will occupy the other.

         Beinfest said the organization had already decided to limit Fernandez's innings this season from 150 to 170.

         "He will just now get those innings here instead of the minor league," Beinfest said. "Individually, per game, he's on an innings and pitch limit. We understand the asset we have, the value of him, his age. And we're going to do whateer we can to do things in his best interest. He's just demonstrated everything -- from maturity to physical strength to quality of pitches -- that he can do it."

         Fernandez said Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria called him Friday morning to tell him about the decison.

         "I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. It's just crazy," Fernandez said of his reaction when Loria gave him the news. "I got really nervous and got really excited, too. It is crazy. I'm happy to be here. That's what I worked for all of my life. I'm going to try to enjoy every bit of it."

         Fernandez appeared in only one Grapefruit League game this spring. Since being reassigned to the minors, he's dominated. He struck out nine in a four-inning outing against the Mets Double A team a little over a week ago and, in his last start, delivered five no-hit innings against the Cardinals Double A outfit.

         Manager Mike Redmond said Fernandez would be slotted in the fifth spot in the rotation but, with an off day on Tuesday, Opening Day starter Ricky Nolasco will pitch twice before Fernandez makes his first start. The upcoming rotation order: Nolasco, Kevin Slowey, Wade LeBlanc, Sanabia, Nolasco, Fernandez.

         The Marlins announced a number of roster moves on Sunday. They selected the contracts of seven players: Austin Kearns, Casey Kotchman, Chad Qualls, Kevin Slowey, Chris Valaika, John Maine and Fernandez.

          Three players were placed on the 60-day disabled list: Logan Morrision, Jose Ceda and Alfredo Silverio. Four players were designated for assignment: Gorkys Hernandez, Zack Cox, Scott Maine and Evan Reed. Placed on the 15-day DL: Alvarez (retroactive to March 27), Eovaldi (retroactive to March 24), Joe Mahoney (retroactive to March 22), Jeff Mathis (retroactive to March 22).

          "We've never seen anything like this, in terms of selecting seven guys," Beinfest said. "It's not even close. We usually select a couple of guys. The number of DL  is high. The number of designated for assignment is probably a record for what I've been involved with. And, in the last 72 hours, the number of different plans we've had with regards to pitching I think is up there as well."


          Redmond announced his Opening Day lineup: 1. Juan Pierre, lf; 2. Chris Coghlan, cf; 3. Giancarlo Stanton, rf; 4. Placido Polanco, 3b; 5. Rob Brantly, c; 6. Donovan Solano, 2b; 7. Casey Kotchman, 1b; 8. Adeiny Hechavarria, ss; 9. Ricky Nolasco, p. 


March 29, 2013

Former Marlin Olivo fills Mathis void

JUPITER -- One of Miami's most glaring holes is behind the plate, and with a late-day signing on Thursday, Miguel Olivo might be the right fit.

Jeff Mathis was out running with the Marlins' trainer on the back fields after his teammates took batting practice, but he is still thought to be a ways out from appearing in a game as he continues to recover from a broken collarbone.

Marlins' president of baseball operations, Larry Beinfest, says that if manager Mike Redmond is comfortable with the young left-handed Kyle Skipworth taking on the back-up role until Mathis returns, than that’s enough.

“Kyle [Skipworth] has done a great job; Kyle hasn’t caught in the big leagues. Koyie Hill’s done a good job...Jeff Mathis is coming back and his rehab is going well,” Beinfest said. “Kyle’s very much in this, he’s been impressive behind the plate.”

Olivo, an 11-year major leaguer, was going through the spring motions with the Reds as a non-roster invitee. Though Cincinnati wanted to retain him for depth, the 34-year-old declined a $100,000 retention bonus to stay in the minor leagues with the organization.

Olivo's deal with the Marlins is pending a physical. He appeared in 21 spring games with the Reds, and is a career .241 hitter. Olivo played in a Florida Marlins uniform from 2006-07.

March 28, 2013

Logan Morrison excited to return to play, Valdez and Hernandez out

JUPITER -- It's been a long spring for Logan Morrison. An extension of the off-season, really. He's sat in the dugout, he's talked baseball with the guys, and he's worked out.

"For sure, it’s frustrating because it’s the same old story," Morrison said. "Hopefully once this is behind me, it’s behind me for good and I'll laugh about it in ten years."

The Marlins charismatic first baseman has been out as he recovers from knee surgery, and any progress is reason for him to be happy.

He'll start running the field next week, and he's up to 90 percent on the anti-gravity treadmill. Morrison is yet to take a batting practice, but is expected to start throwing and fielding ground balls sometime next week. 

"I just hope to be in big league games by early [to] middle of May...I have to go through the whole production of play today, play three inings, don’t play the next day, play two days in a row, don’t play that day," he said. "You only get 20 rehab days so I’ve got to do all that progression down in extended [spring training], then go to Jupiter or Double A or whatever. I don’t know what they want me to do."

All of the uncertainty of a recovery process is the only certainty and it's visibly frustrating to Morrison as he takes it one step at a time.

"I don’t know when it starts to turn into anticipation. Right now, it’s more frustration," he said. "I took swings off a tee for the first time in eight months and I got really excited. When they told me I could start running in the bubble on the Alt-G treadmill, I got really excited.

"I think when I start playing, even if it’s in extended, i’ll be excited and that’ll go away. Then I’ll be like, 'let’s go to Double A', then I’ll be excited, then that’ll go away. Then I’ll be excited to be in the big leagues and that doesn’t ever go away."

Screen shot 2013-03-28 at 11.52.26 AM


In the final game of the Grapefruit League season, prospect Justin Nicolino will get the nod on the mound. Redmond has seen the 21-year-old progress in his time with the Blue Jays A-affiliate in Lansing, MI.

"Bring the young kid up, so it's exciting," Redmond said. "It's great for a young kid to come over and pitch on the big field. I'm excited for him."

Donovan Solano is in the lineup for the Marlins for the first time in over a week.

Marlins' president of baseball operations, Larry Beinfest, addressed the media on Thursday before Miami took the field.

Wilson Valdez and Gorkys Hernandez were told they wouldn't be breaking camp with the big club. 

"When we talk to these guys at this point in spring training, it's all with the disclaimer that things can change," Beinfest said. "There's still a few days to go, but out of courtesy we're breaking camp today and letting guys know where they're at."

Valdez will begin the season with Triple A New Orleans, but there are no remaining options on Hernandez. The club will have to re-evaluate the roster to see if they can work a trade for Hernandez, or risk losing him to waivers.

Outfielder Chris Coghlan and reserve infielder Chris Valaika, who both homered in Wednesday's game, will be on the roster.

"[Valaika] plays with a lot of outward energy; he's spunky and a grinder," Beinfest said."...We always kind of had an eye on him early because of the way he played the game, but we were waiting for the performance to catch up."

Valaika, 27, has only played in 33 Major League games, both for Cinncinnati. He's hitting .240 in Grapefruit League play, with two home runs in 50 at bats.

Screen shot 2013-03-28 at 4.32.48 PM

Beinfest also said that pitchers John Maine and Kevin Slowey were still a decision to make, only two days after Redmond announced that Slowey would fill the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

In addition to the two pitchers in question, Valaika is also a non-roster invitee. 

"We have some roster stuff to do with the number of guys we're potentially adding," Beinfest said. "When we leave New Orleans [on] Saturday, the club will be together and that stuff will be clear."

There hasn't been a decision made on the back-up catcher.

Starting lineup:

MARLINS: Pierre 7, Solano 4, Stanton 9, Polanco 5, Dobbs 3, Ruggiano 8, Brantly 2, Hechavarria 6, Nicolino 1

CARDINALS: Jay 8, Carpenter 4, Holliday 7, Beltran 9, Molina 2, Adams 3, Wigginton 5, Jackson 6, Lynn 1

--Steph Rogers (twitter)


March 27, 2013

Decisions remain for the Marlins on Maine, Skipworth and others

    FORT MYERS -- It's coming down to the wire for a number of players fighting for roster spots, including a couple whose jobs might not be as secure as they would appear to be.

     Take catcher Kyle Skipworth, for example. The Marlins have only three catchers on their 40-man roster and one of those, Jeff Mathis, is injured and not due back until May 1 or thereabouts. The Marlins recently signed veteran backup Koyie Hill, who is behind the plate for them this afternoon but is not on the 40-man. Koyie doesn't swing the stick all that well, but does bring some major league experience. Rob Brantly, who will receive the bulk of the catching duties, has only 100 big league at bats. Skipworth has never played above Double A.

      "To have two young guys like that is not an idea situation," manager Mike Redmond said of a Brantly/Skipworth tandem to start the season. "I feel comfortable with 'Skippy,' but at the same time I'm nervous having two young guys back there. So we'll have to see how that plays out. All those are issues and things we have to take into account. That's why it's going down to the last day, to make those decisions."

       Another player whose name is not etched in stone is pitcher John Maine, even though he would appear to be the long reliever based on how the roster shapes up at present. (Maine is also scheduled to pitch today in relief of Kevin Slowey).

       Once again, Redmond could not say with any certainty that Maine will make the club.

       "We're still deciding on Maine, trying to decide what we're going to do there," Redmond said. "It's something we're trying to figure out."

       It's possible the Marlins could be discussing possible trades with other teams, trying to match needs, as spring training winds down. The Marlins have pulled off last-minute deals in the past, acquiring Ross Gload in 2009 and Nate Robertson in 2010 just before the start of the season.

       The Marlins also haven't settled on a backup infielder or extra outfielder. Actually, Redmond said minds are pretty much made up internally on those two roles but an official announcement likely won't be made until Thursday.

       Chris Coghlan and Gorkys Hernandez are vying for the extra outfield spot while Wilson Valdez and Chris Valaika are battling to make the team as the utility infielder. All four players are in the lineup this afternoon.

March 26, 2013

Turner on his way to New Orleans, six other roster moves at camp

JUPITER -- Right-hander Jacob Turner has his career in his own hands, and he'll be working on fixing his mechanics with Triple A New Orleans.

"No matter where you're pitching, you just want to do well. At this point, I wasn't able to show what I am as a pitcher," he said before Tuesday's warm up. "It's not going to stop me from going down there and working on getting better and getting back up here as soon as I can."

Turner labored through 13 innings with the Marlins in the Grapefruit League. He was given four starts, but couldn't get things right.

"I had my chances, I can't blame them for that," he said. "It's just something that I didn't throw the ball as well as I would have liked to and that's disappointing."

Turner's record was 0-3 in the spring, with a 9.69 ERA. He walked nine and struck out five.

"We've laid it out and made it very clear that we see him in our plans pitching in this rotation," manager Mike Redmond said. "But he's got to go down [to New Orleans] and pound the strke zone and work on his command. When he does that, he'll be back." 

Redmond wants to see Turner stay consistent -- a theme that has been present throughout the spring.

The most frustrating part for the 21-year-old is that he feels he's close to fixing his mechanics.

"Throwing strikes has always been something that's been a big strength for me," he said. "So, just get back to doing that [in New Orleans] and pounding the strike zone."

Redmond announced his rotation after the team's morning warm up, noting that Turner's fate was a tough one. As expected, the Marlins will go with Ricky Nolasco, Nathan Eovaldi, Wade LeBlanc, Henderson Alvarez, and Kevin Slowey.

"This spring's been a mixed bag. We've had some good starts and we've had some struggles out there," Redmond said of his starters. "We're hoping that when those lights go on, these guys really turn it up and we're able to get deeper into games."

Tuesday morning brought six additional roster moves. LHP Dan Jennings joins Turner in Triple A, while INF's Nick Green, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Matt Downs, OF Jordan Brown and LHP Zach Phillips have been reassigned to minor league camp.

With Jennings and Phillips out of Major League camp, the only remaining left-handed pitcher for the bullpen is Mike Dunn

Marlins fans will get a glimpse of the future Miami traded the Blue Jays for when Justin Nicolino pitches in Thursday's Grapefruit League game

Starting lineups:

Marlins - 7 Pierre, 5 Polanco, 9 Stanton, 3 Dobbs, 8 Ruggiano, 2 Brantly, 4 Valaika, 6 Hechavarria, 1 Alvarez 

Nationals - 8 Span, 9 Werth, 7 Harper, 5 Zimmerman, 3 LaRoche, 6 Desmond, 4 Espinosa, 2 Suzuki, 1 Haren

UPDATES: Redmond confirmed post-game that Austin Kearns, Chad Qualls and Casey Kotchman will all be on Opening Day roster, as per Article XX(B) noon deadline for a decision. The Marlins had to decide if the players would be added to the 25-man roster or ML disabled list, grant the player outright release from their minor league contract, or pay them a $100,000 retention bonus to hold them before sending them to the minors.

--Steph Rogers (twitter)

March 25, 2013

Polanco batting fourth, Solano takes BP


JUPITER -- Veteran Placido Polanco has done a lot of things over the course of his 15-year career in the Majors, and after Monday’s 6-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers, he can add ‘batting fourth’ to the list.

When he’s told that he’s been in the four-spot seven times, he’s in disbelief.

“Seven times? Really?”

Since returning to play from his strained oblique, the third baseman has been primarily batting second in the order. It makes sense, considering Polanco has batted second in the order during the course of his career over 5,100 times.

"It's one of those things where we're going to have a lot of different guys hitting in a lot of different spots. I like Polanco there," manager Mike Redmond said. "He gives you a veteran bat, a guy who puts the ball in play, he can hit behind runners, he can hit and run...it might be a nice fit behind [Giancarlo] Stanton."

As Redmond continues to express that the order is always subject to change based on the situation at hand, it won't be Polanco's last time hitting fourth.

"We'll maybe throw him back there a couple of days and see how it goes. We've hit him second most of the time because I really wanted to get him more at-bats," the manager said. "At this point, I want to see how that works and see how the lineup responds to him being a little lower in the order."

The 37-year-old went 1 for 3, doubling in his first at-bat. 

He can remember back to 1998, in one of his first games with St. Louis, when he hit ninth in the order, behind the pitcher.

“I remember [Tom] Pagnozzi telling me, ‘Are you going to take that?’’ Polanco said. “I said, ‘I have two days in the big leagues, I’m extremely happy with that.”

That same season, Mark McGuire hit 70 home runs and drew 162 walks as Polanco’s teammate on the Cardinals.


Redmond is eager to get second baseman Donovan Solano back into play, and feels he can fill the two-spot when he's ready to return. A stiff back has held Solano out since last Wednesday.

"I kind of like him there. He's progressing, he's feeling a lot better," Redmond said. "He's out on the field today which is huge. I feel much better about that."

Solano will likely see a game with the minor league side of camp to get his at-bats in before taking on a Grapefruit League game as the season comes to a close in Jupiter on Thursday. 

Before the Marlins were rained out in Kissimmee on Sunday, Jacob Turner battled in a tough test for a spot in the rotation. Miami lost 4-1 in five innings of play. The right-hander gave up four earned runs on five hits, with four walks and a strikeout.

A rough spring has put the 21-year-old's abilities to help the major league rotation in question, but a decision when the clubhouse opened on Monday morning hadn't been made.

"We met this morning and we're still going over it," Redmond said. 

He had hoped to have his announcement post-game, but instead the meetings were back in session.

Left-hander Wade LeBlanc, one of the candidates in the mix, worked five innings, allowing seven hits and four earned-runs in the loss. He struck out four Detroit batters.


The rotation might seem the easiest decision of the ones to be made. Four non-roster invitees and an optionless Gorkys Hernandez were in the same batting group during Monday's pre-game activities. Infielders Matt Downs, Nick Green and Kevin Kouzmanoff are awaiting their fate, along with outfielder Jordan Brown.

"The rest of the utility guys, that might be a couple of days off," Redmond said.

Decisions must also be made five days prior to Opening Day with Article XX(B) free agents Chad Qualls, Austin Kearns and Casey Kotchman. The three represent 33 players in the league who must be placed on the 25-man roster, released outright, or given a $100,000 bonus if they are sent to the minors.

Last season, current Marlins’ left fielder Juan Pierre was on that list.

Is anything written in stone at camp? Redmond laughs when he offers up that Steve Cishek is a certainty in the bullpen. The rest will be down to the wire, but he plans to carry 12 pitchers on his staff.

Historically, the Marlins haven't been afraid to add to the Opening Day roster late. On Mar. 30, 2010, they acquired LHP Nate Robertson from the Tigers for minor leaguer Jay Voss and cash considerations, just six days before the season opened. 

Robertson's time with the Marlins was short lived -- he was designated for assignment on July 21, and later released.

The previous year on Apr. 1, Miami took on Ross Gload from the Kansas City Royals for a player to be named later. The Marlins opened on Apr. 6 with the new left-handed pinch hitter.

There's a place for extra parts all over the roster, as proved by the late addition of Wilson Valdez. Valdez played second base in Monday’s contest, and was 0 for 3.

The Marlins could be looking into help behind the plate until Jeff Mathis has recovered, to avoid opening with two young, left-handed hitters in Rob Brantly and Kyle Skipworth taking on full-time duties.


Starting lineups:

Marlins: 4 Valdez, 7 Coghlan, 9 Stanton, 5 Polanco, 2 Brantly, 8 Ruggiano, 3 Kotchman, 6 Hechavarria, 1 LeBlanc 

Tigers: 8 Jackson, DH Hunter, 5 Cabrera, 7 Tuiasosopo, 6 Peralta, 4 Infante, 2 Avila, 2 Pena, 9 Russo (RHP Rick Porcello starting)

--Steph Rogers

March 24, 2013

Redmond hopeful Solano will be ready for Opening Day

KISSIMMEE -- Before the Marlins sent Donovan Solano down to the minors last spring, manager Ozzie Guillen was hoping he could keep the 25-year old utility infielder as an important fill-in on the 25-man roster.

A year later, new manager Mike Redmond is talking about Solano as a valuable part of the Marlins' lineup, one the team sorely needs to be healthy for Opening Day.

"Right now I'm not as worried about the four-hole hitter as I'm worried about getting Solano in there," Redmond said Sunday when asked who he might be considering to bat behind All-Star Giancarlo Stanton. "That's a guy we need in our lineup and kind of makes our whole lineup come together."

Solano, who injured his back Wednesday working out, had an MRI performed on Saturday and it appears the results were encouraging.

"He's progressing," Redmond said. "The trainer said he was doing much better [Sunday] and is going to play some catch. We're hoping Wednesday-Thursday maybe get him back in a game. It's definitely good news. He's getting better. We're hopeful he's on board for the start of the season.

In the result Solano isn't ready, the Marlins are looking at several utility infielders as backup options. Veteran journeyman Wilson Valdez, signed Saturday after being released by the Giants, is getting a start today at shortstop after playing third on Saturday. Nick Green, who has been with the Marlins all camp and is hitting the best of the bunch at .263, is getting the start at second base. Matt Downs (.128) is at third. Chris Valaika, another infield option hitting .220 this spring, made the trip up for today's game and will likely enter the game late.


Right-hander Jacob Turner will make an important start today against the Astros -- his last chance to win the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

Redmond said Marlins brass will meet tonight after the game to decide on the rotation and potentially bullpen jobs as well. If Turner doesn't impress them enough he will begin the season in Triple A. The Marlins would then likely insert veteran right-hander Kevin Slowey into the rotation and make John Maine their long reliever.

"Slowey has started. He's stretched out. He can go multiple innings. If he were to go in the rotation he's ready to go," Redmond said. "If not, he could fill that long role as well."

Redmond said he would like for left-hander Wade LeBlanc, the only lefty in the Marlins rotation, to pitch third in the rotation.

"It's nice to have a lefty in there, especially a guy who can pitch and eat some innings," Redmond said. "He fits in there for me. We're waiting on today to have it all set by tomorrow."

> When camp started the Marlins had 74 players on the team. Redmond said he's enjoyed the process of whittling the roster down.

"With 74 guys it was right into the fire so to speak," Redmond said. "It's been a lot of work, but it's been good. Part of my goal was to get to see as many guys as I possibly could. I got to see a lot of our young kids, our prospects and see the pitchers and position players. I've learned a lot this spring."

> How is Logan Morrison doing? "He's still the same. He's progressing," Redmond said. "He's swinging off the tee and still running on that treadmill thing."

It's likely Morrison -- penciled in as the Marlins cleanup hitter -- won't be in game shape until May.


> Marlins (11-14-2): 1. Juan Pierre LF, 2. Wilson Valdez SS, 3. Giancarlo Stanton RF, 4. Greg Dobbs DH, 5. Justin Ruggiano CF, 6. Rob Brantly C, 7. Matt Downs 3B, 8. Casey Kotchman 1B, 9. Nick Green 2B. RHP Jacob Turner

> Astros (11-14-2): 1. Jose Altuve 2B, 2. Brett Wallace 1B, 3. Carlos Pena DH, 4. Rick Ankiel CF, 5. Fernando Martinez RF, 6. Carlos Corporan C, 7. Matt Dominguez 3B, 8. Trevor Crowe LF, 9. Ronny Cedeno SS. RHP David Martinez.

March 23, 2013

Marlins add INF Valdez to camp

By Steph Rogers

JUPITER -- The Marlins have added more questions to the spring with five games remaining in the Grapefruit League season. Freshly released from the San Francisco Giants (as in, yesterday) Miami has signed infielder Wilson Valdez to a minor league deal with an invitation to what little is left of Major League camp.

"We brought him in to see where he fits, if there is a fit with what we've got," manager Mike Redmond said. "We're always trying to better the team."

Valdez flew in late on Friday night, and took batting practice with the team on Saturday. He is wearing No. 1.

The Marlins are dealing with the prolonged absence of Donovan Solano, and Valdez's signing might be indicative that the second baseman's injury might be more trouble than anticipated. Solano was pulled on Wednesday with a stiff back.

Starting lineups:

Marlins: 6 Adeiny Hechavarria, 5 Placido Polanco, 3 Greg Dobbs, 9 Austin Kearns, 8 Chris Coghlan, 4 Chris Valaika, 2 Kyle Skipworth, 7 Gorkys Hernandez, 1 Nathan Eovaldi

Cardinals: 4 Daniel Descalso, 9 Oscar Tavares, 7 Matt Holliday, 2 Yadier Molina, 3 Matt Adams, 5 Ty Wigginton, 8 Adron Chambers, 6 Pete Kozma, 1 Lance Lynn

March 22, 2013

Yelich reassigned to minor league camp

JUPITER -- As the Marlins prepare for a night contest against the New York Mets, the roster dwindles down even further. Christian Yelich's tear on the spring will come to an end; he's been reassigned to the minor league side of camp along with RHP Jonathan Albaladejo and catcher Jake Jeffries. RHP Tom Koehler has been optioned to triple-A New Orleans.

38 players remain in camp.

Starting lineups for 7:05 p.m @ Roger Dean:

Marlins: 7 Juan Pierre, 5 Placido Polanco, 9 Giancarlo Stanton, 8 Justin Ruggiano, 3 Casey Kotchman, 6 Chris Valaika, 2 Rob Brantly, 4 Nick Green, 1 Ricky Nolasco

Mets: 4 Jordany Valdespin, 8 Collin Cowgill, 9 Mike Baxter, 7 Andrew Brown, 8 Anthony Recker, 3 Brandon Hicks, 6 Omar Quintanilla, 5 Brian Bixler, 1 Jonathan Niese 

March 20, 2013

Wade LeBlanc vying for consistency in final week of camp

By Steph Rogers

JUPITER -- Ozzie Guillen’s endorsement of Wade LeBlanc as the ‘Cy Young of spring training’ didn’t earn him a spot in the Marlins rotation in 2012. He was sent packing for New Orleans to begin his season with the triple-A Zephyrs.

In Jupiter, LeBlanc looks just as comfortable on the mound as he did one year ago, only the circumstances have changed. The pitching scenery around him is younger in age, in experience level, and the most glaring mark is that LeBlanc is out of options.

On Wednesday, the Washington Nationals brought all of their weapons in Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, and reigning National League Rookie of the Year, Bryce Harper.

“That’s who I’m going to be facing during the season,” said LeBlanc, after his outing. “I’m glad they brought those guys over so I can see what I need to work on and see what works and then just try to improve on the rest of the stuff.”

For arguably his biggest test of the spring, the only left-handed candidate for a spot in the Marlins rotation pitched five innings, and allowed a spring-high six earned-runs on seven hits. He struck out four in the 7-5 loss.

All of LeBlanc’s undoings were uncharacteristic, and a relentless Nationals’ offense didn’t leave an inch of room for error. Loading the bases in the third, Harper scored two runners on a double.

The hurler issued back-to-back walks in the fifth inning after a three-up, three-down fourth inning, and recent history repeated itself with Harper driving in two more runs for the Nats.

“When good hitters like that are ahead in the count, they can pretty much make you pay whatever they want,” LeBlanc said of his troubles.

The most compelling thing about the lefty is his recognition of what’s going wrong, and how little time there is left to get things right.

“The fourth, I feel like is more of who I am and definitely who I need to be. Get ahead, establish strikes early, [and] stay aggressive,” he said.

“I was up a little more than I’d like to be and a little more than I can afford to be. That’s one thing we’ve got to get straightened out before Apr. 1. We’ve got one more start [and] one more bullpen.”

Not able to rely on his velocity, LeBlanc’s ability to move the ball and change speeds are what makes him an appealing part of Mike Redmond’s rotation.

“When he does that, and we’ve seen him do that, he’s really good and he’s able to eat up some innings for us,” the manager said.

Redmond jokes that he would have liked to have things set in stone two weeks ago, but in the final week of uncertainties, there's a case for LeBlanc to fall nicely into place in the Marlins rotation to open the season.

"I like having a lefty in there. I think he fits in that rotation and gives you a different look," Redmond said. "Especially if you bring him in after a power guy like [Nathan] Eovaldi. I like that."

With New Orleans, LeBlanc struck out nearly a batter an inning in his 16 starts. When he was called up to Miami, he carried zeros through his first seven appearances out of the bullpen, and later transitioned his work into nine starts for the club. Through 68 2/3 innings, he finished with a 3.67 ERA, the lowest of his five seasons in the majors.

The biggest takeaway from the spring will be LeBlanc’s ability to stay consistent, and to remedy the jams he finds himself in -- like the third and fifth innings against the Nationals on Wednesday. LeBlanc worked his pitch count to 84 in Wednesday's contest, throwing 57 for strikes.

“That’s what it’s about in the big leagues; it’s taking that ball every five days and giving us a chance to win,” Redmond said. “When you have young guys out there pitching, that’s sometimes the difference...the consistency in the strike zone.”