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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.

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