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3 posts from March 25, 2014

March 25, 2014

Reed Johnson talks about making the Marlins' roster; Fernandez struggles in last start

JUPITER -- It won't be officially announced until the Marlins make some corresponding personnel moves, but 37-year old veteran outfielder Reed Johnson has earned a spot on the Opening Day roster.

"I think we've talked about it all spring what he brings to our ballclub," manager Mike Redmond said. "He's a veteran bat of the bench. He understands his role. He's been around for a long time. You don't play that many years as a role player if you're not a great teammate and bring a lot to the table. This guy can still hit. He still has a quick bat, still go out there and help us. He earned it. That's the bottomline."

Johnson, a non-roster invitee, didn't play Tuesday but is hitting .410 this spring. It's the second time in his career he's come into spring training with a minor league contract and made the team, doing the same with the Cubs a couple years back.

"I know Red's seen me play, being in Atlanta and in the East, but I think it was still big for me to come in and hit from start to finish and let them know I still have a lot of gas in the tank, a lot of baseball in me," Johnson said. "The way I was treated here too was really key to me having a successful spring training. I went on some road trips and was able to start a bunch of games. I got as good a look as I possibly could have with some good at-bats."

Much like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal and other veterans the Marlins signed, the organization loves the fact Johnson has playoff experience and is a good clubhouse guy.

"Everything starts with pitching," Johnson said. "That's really what this team was all about last year. What you didn't have last year was that veteran leadership.

"From an offensive standpoint, being able to give guys scouting reports like what can you look for in a pitcher, which side of the plate, inside or outside, just those little things start to develop approaches with younger players. I think hitting is all about approach. There's a lot more hitters in the big leagues that are bigger, stronger, faster than I am. But I feel like my approach is a pretty good approach. If you have a plan at the plate and can relay that to a young player that makes all the difference in the world to those guys. The more you play and more experience you have the better your approach becomes as far as getting quality at-bats. If I can help younger players with that it can make a difference with their at-bats. I think we can only get better, especially the younger guys."

ROUGH FINISH TO SPRING FOR FERNANDEZ

Jose Fernandez's final tune-up before Opening Night turned out to be his roughest start of the spring.

Yanked after throwing 98 pitches (58 for strikes) in only 4 2/3 innings, Fernandez gave up nine hits, five runs (four earned) before the Marlins rallied to beat the Cardinals 6-5 on Tuesday at Roger Dean Stadium.

"Hopefully six days from now it's going to be better," said Fernandez, who in five starts this spring (20 1/3 innings) posted a 3.54 ERA with 19 strikeouts and eight walks.

"I was trying to throw strikes and I couldn't. That's been a problem the whole spring training. I pray for the season not to be like that."

A year ago at this time Fernandez was in-line to start the season in Double A Jacksonville. Then, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez went down with shoulder injuries, opening the door for the National League's eventual Rookie of the Year to find a spot in the rotation.

Now 21 and an All-Star, Fernandez is hardly the same quiet kid he was a year ago. He's shown up to camp in purple pants and gold shoes, and recently had a large tattoo of a bicycle gear inked on his lower right leg. He said he'd like to post an ERA under 2.00 this season and has been in-season intense before Grapefruit League starts, saying its been tough to sleep.

Fernandez was visibly upset after Tuesday's start.

"You can tell he was having to really grind it out there and maybe wasn't quite as sharp with his pitches," Redmond said. "I think all pitchers are like that. They get one time a week to go out there and pitch and they want to be perfect. That's the nature of their job. I think that can be tough sometimes. You're not going to be perfect every single time. Some days are going to be better than others. That's when you have to trust your stuff and have a plan to continue to stay focused.

"I know Jose knows how to do that. He's amazing at that for such a young guy. There's going to be battles out there. There are going to be some nights when he doesn't feel great and doesn't have his best command and he's going to have to go out there and give us everything he has."

How does Fernandez envision his emotions being before Opening Night? Not the same as his debut a year ago.

"I think it's going to be maybe more like the game against the Dodgers [and Yasiel Puig] at home," Fernandez said. "I'll try to sleep."

> Rafael Furcal (1-for-6, walk) and Greg Dobbs (1-for-5) both served as designated hitters in a minor league game against the Cardinals Tuesday. Both are trying to come back from injuries.

Dan Marino to throw out ceremonial first pitch for Marlins on Opening Night

Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino will throw out the ceremonial first pitch Monday night when the Marlins open the season against the Colorado Rockies.

Marino, who passed on baseball after being selected by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round of the 1979 First-Year Player Draft, spent 17 years with the Dolphins and was recently let go by CBS after serving as a football analyst.

In addition to Marino throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, Opening Night festivities include KC from KC and the Sunshine Band singing the national anthem, a special celebrity Opening Night video and an in-game celebration honoring Henderson Alvarez’s no-hitter, the fifth in team history. A free fireworks show presented by Pepsi will follow the game.

“We are honored to welcome back Dan Marino to the site where he began his hall-of-fame professional career,” Marlins President David Samson said in a statement released by the team. “There is no better way to start a season at Marlins Park than with a pass from this South Florida sports icon.”

Caminero, Capps among trio of Marlins pitchers sent down; Wigginton released

Despite pitching his tail off this spring, Arquimedes Caminero was among a trio of pitchers informed Tuesday morning they will be starting the season in the minors.

Caminero posted a 2.00 ERA and two saves over seven appearances and nine innings of work. He had a 0.44 WHIP (9 strikeouts, 1 walk, 3 hits) and opponents hit just .100 against him. But he'll be starting the season down in Triple A New Orleans along with right-handers Carter Capps and Chaz Roe, who also received notice Tuesday they were being reassigned to the minors.

"It's just the way things worked out," a disappointed Caminero said. "It's the business."

Mike Hill, President of Baseball Operations, said it was a tough decision to make and even tougher to deliver.

"Extremely tough calls, but I think what we discussed internally is that it's a good thing for us -- that we have these type of decisions," Hill said. "Sending all three of them down we feel like we're sending down major league capable pitching -- in the case of all three of them. Caminero came through our system, made tremendous strides, had a tremendous spring training. To look him in the eye and tell him he's going down was a difficult conversation."

Caminero is in his final option year and can obviously be brought up whenever the Marlins need him. He made 13 appearances toward the end of the 2013 season and posted a 2.77 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He'll likely serve as the closer or pitch in late innings in Triple A. That's a role that the Marlins eventually see Caminero doing down the road, and something he wouldn't be doing if he made this year's big league team out of the gate.

"When the need rises we know we have a major league ready reliever to come back," Hill said. "He's definitely going to pitch meaningful innings down there and get him experience with that. He has a well above average fastball with a split finger that has made tremendous strides. So it will be an opportunity for him to pitch in the back end, which he wouldn't necessarily be doing here. So that's another part of it."

Capps, acquired in the trade with Seattle for Logan Morrison, was less of a surprise demotion than Caminero. He struggled a bit this spring -- he's been working on his mechanics -- and posted a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings of work and a 1.00 WHIP. 

"[Pitching coach] Chuck [Hernandez has] worked hard on his mechanics, trying to get him consistent," manager Mike Redmond said. "This guy just hasn't been pitching that long. He's got a big arm and this guy too can pitch late in games. It's just a matter of him finding the consistency in his mechanics which enables him to throw more strikes."

Roe had an awful 12.38 ERA and opponents hit .385 off him.

The moves mean there is now space in the bullpen for hard-throwing right-hander and non-roster invitee Henry Rodriguez (1-0, 6.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 14 Ks) or maybe a combination of left-hander Brad Hand and right-hander Kevin Slowey, who could serve as long relievers. There are 14 pitchers left in camp. The Marlins are taking a dozen into the season with them.

Redmond looks like he's pegged Slowey for the long reliever role and now it's just a matter of who else -- Hand or Rodriguez -- will be joining Steve Cishek, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos, Carlos Marmol and Dan Jennings in the bullpen.

"Slowey's consistent. We know what we're getting with him," Redmond said. "He's the perfect long guy. He really is. He can go out there throw four, five innings. He can throw one inning. He can do a lot of different things. He's been around long enough he's a guy you can sit down there for a few days and not pitch him and put him into any situation. He's definitely equipped for that role."

> It looks like veteran outfielder Reed Johnson is going to have a spot on the roster when the Marlins break camp. Johnson had a deadline of Tuesday at noon to make the team or be released. He's been sensational this spring (.410, 1 HR, 6 RBI in 39 at-bats).

"It should be just a formality at this point," Hill said. "He's had a great spring. Just along the same thing of bringing in specific veterans who have that championship pedigree, championship experience. He's come as advertised -- a great teammate. You see him on the bench. That's where I think the veterans make a huge impact -- when the game is going on and they can pick out moments and grab a guy like Yelich, Ozuna and Marisnick and tell them did you see that? Did you see this? That's where those guys gain valuable experience and that's where his knowledge has been great for us."

> The Marlins released non-roster invitee Ty Wigginton. He hit .147 this spring in 23 at-bats. The Marlins are now down to 34 players in big league camp overall.

"He's a pro," Hill said of Wigginton. "When you have a conversation with him you tell him we were hopeful something might open up for you, but to this point we stayed fairly healthy and there's not going to be an opportunity. But you're a pro and the professionalism you've brought to our clubhouse is the type of change we wanted to bring. We wanted to bring the qualities you embodied. We thanked him for the time he's been with us and what he's done for our young players in what it means to be a pro and approach your job day in and day out."

TUESDAY'S LINEUP

> Marlins: 1. Christian Yelich LF, 2. Derek Dietrich 2B, 3. Giancarlo Stanton RF, 4. Garrett Jones 1B, 5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C, 6. Marcell Ozuna CF, 7. Casey McGehee 3B, 8. Ed Lucas SS, 9. Jose Fernandez RHP. Other scheduled pitchers: RHP Kevin Slowey, RHP Steve Cishek, RHP A.J. Ramos, RHP Chris Hatcher, LHP Dan Jennings.

> Cardinals: 1. Kolten Wong 2B, 2. Daniel Descalso 3B,  3. Matt Holliday LF, 4. Matt Adams 1B, 5. Yadier Molina C, 6. Shane Robinson RF, 7. Peter Bourjos CF, 8. Pete Kozma SS, 9. Lance Lynn RHP.