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Rafael Furcal gung-ho after year-long absence

JUPITER -- Veteran infielder Rafael Furcal will be returning to competition for the first time in a year when he leads off and plays second for the Marlins in one of the team's two-split squad games. Furcal, who missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, is anxious to get back on the field.

"I feel like a kid," said Furcal, 36. "To come back, it's very special for me."

Furcal said he appeared in just one spring training game last year for the Cardinals before the injury to his right arm gave him no choice but to undergo surgery. Even though the time off enabled him to be with his wife and children, Furcal longed for the game.

"Oh my, I was happy because I was with my kids all the time," Furcal said. "It was the first time in my career, since they were born, to take them to school and pick them up from school. But it was no fun for me, just sitting at home, watching the games on TV. I've played for a long time, like 15 years, you're at the ballpark every day. It's different."

Furcal has been working with infield coach Perry Hill on playing second. He acknowledged that the adjustment switching from shortstop to second is not as easy as it might seem.

"It's been going pretty good," he said. "I've worked at second base a long time ago. It's the big leagues, everything changes. The way people slide, everything. To make a double plays, it's different. I'm glad I'm working with one of the best infield coach. He will help me out a lot."

Furcal said that while he continues to build strength in his surgically repaired right arm, it's not a major issue.

"It's not like I can tell you it's 100 percent right now," he said. "We still are working it up. But I feel good. I feel freedom."

Here are the Marlins' lineups for their two games:

Vs. Cardinals (Jupiter): 1. Rafael Furcal, 2b; 2. Adeiny Hechavarria, ss; 3. Giancarlo Stanton, rf; 4. Garrett Jones, 1b; 5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, dh; 6. Marcell Ozuna, cf; 7. Greg Dobbs, 3b; 8. Jeff Mathis, c; 9. Brian Bogusevic, lf. Pitching: Nathan Eovaldi.

Vs. Mets (Port St. Lucie): 1. Jake Marisnick, cf; 2. Christian Yelich, lf; 3. Jeff Baker, 1b; 4. Casey McGehee, 3b; 5. Derek Dietrich, 2b; 6. Reed Johnson, rf; 7. Rob Brantly, c; 8. Ed Lucas, ss; 9. Austin Barnes, dh. Pitching: Kevin Slowey.

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Juan Diaz, a non-roster infielder, says it usually comes as a surprise to most people when they learn he's a shortstop. The reason: at 6-feet-4-inches, he stands out alongside other middle infielders.

"Everybody says the same thing -- 'Man, you play shortstop? You don't play another position?'" Diaz said. "I say no. I've played shortstop all my life, third base a little bit. Everybody says 'You don't think you're too tall to play shortstop?' But after people see me, they say 'You're tall, but you move like a little guy.'"

According to The Complete Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com, Diaz, who appeared in a handful of games for the Indians in 2012, is one of only six players 6'4" or taller who have played shortstop in the majors. The others: Cal Ripken Jr., Andy Fox, Mike Morse, Don Kelly and Brent Dlugach.

All but Morse (6'5") are listed at 6'4".

Diaz (see stats here) spent all of last season at Triple A Columbus (Indians), where he hit .242 with eight home runs in 122 games. Diaz, 25, is nicknamed "Baby Bull."

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