March 26, 2012

Mujica looks like he's earned setup role with Marlins as Oviedo sits in Dominican

LAKELAND -- Ozzie Guillen said Sunday he was going to lean on pitching coach Randy St. Claire to decide who serves as the setup man for closer Heath Bell. Well, if that's the case, consider Edward Mujica the heavy favorite to be that guy come Opening Day.

Edward Mujica"For me right now, probably Edward is the guy who had the most chances in that role [last season] and did a pretty decent job," St. Claire said Monday. "For me, it's his job to lose."

Mujica, 27, hasn't done anything to lose that job this spring, even though the rest of the Marlins bullpen has pitched really well, too. In five appearances, Mujica has posted a 1.80 ERA, striking out six with no walks. Ryan Webb has done even better -- tossing six scoreless innings of relief in five appearances with three strikeouts and no walks. Steve Cishek has a 1.93 ERA in 4 2/3 innings, with three strikeouts and two walks.

Of course, the Marlins were hoping to have someone else serve as their setup man before spring training began -- former closer Juan Carlos Oviedo. But with the man formerly known as Leo Nunez still on the restricted and sitting in the Dominican Republic, the Marlins have had to move on with their plans and it appears Mujica, Oviedo's close friend, will fill his spot at the start of the season.

St. Claire said aside from Mujica the Marlins could also use left-handed specialist Randy Choate to get tough lefties out in the 8th before inserting Mujica after him.

St. Claire said what separates Mujica from other Marlins relievers in that eight inning role is his ability to get lefties out with his split-fingered fastball. Last season, lefties hit .220 against Mujica in 132 at-bats compared to .245 versus righties in 143 at-bats.

"He's going to throw the ball over the plate, we saw that last year," St. Claire said of Mujica, who walked just 14 of the 297 batters he faced in 2011.

"And that's something you got to have out of your guys in the back end of the pen. When you're in a one-run game, two-run game, you can't be putting guys on base. He doesn't. He makes them hit the ball."

Of his 67 appearances last season, Mujica made 40 in the 8th inning, posting a 2.97 ERA in 33 1/3 innings of work in the frame. He struckout 31 and walked two. He was even better in the 7th, posting a 0.96 ERA in 18 2/3 innings with 15 strikeouts and two walks.

If Mujica were out, St. Claire said: "It would be a mix and match type deal, who you got coming up whether they're righties, lefties, that type of deal. You try to mix and match to get through that inning. But when you have that true eighth inning guy, it's usually 'here's the ball.' Just like the closer. You're not usually worrying about matching up because he gets both out the same."

St. Claire said he's asked the Marlins several times this spring for an update on Oviedo, but has been told repeatedly "there's no news."

> Choate will pitch in Grapefruit League play for the first time today against the Tigers. St. Claire said he wants to get him about 20 pitchers -- or an inning of work.

> St. Claire said the only Marlins starter who won't be allowed to go over the 95-pitch mark at the start of the season is Anibal Sanchez, who was held back a start at the beginning of Grapefruit League play because of shoulder stiffness.

St. Claire said the way the Marlins starting rotation is lined up at the moment, Ricky Nolasco will face the Yankees at Marlins Park Sunday and Carlos Zambrano will start versus New York a day later.

The rotation will then reset with Josh Johnson pitching on Opening Day April 4th against the Cardinals and Mark Buehrle (April 5th), Nolasco (April 7th) and Zambrano (April 8th) lined up to pitch versus the Reds in Cincinnati. That means Sanchez, slated to be the Marlins fifth starter, will make his debut April 9th in Philadelphia.


> Last year at this time, Donnie Murphy was preparing to serve as the Marlins starting third baseman on Opening Day. Now, he's not sure if he'll have a roster spot on the 2012 Marlins.

The 29-year old veteran utility man has struggled this spring at the plate, hitting just .194 (6 for 31) in 13 games and is receiving stiff competition from 24-year old non-roster invitee Donovan Solano (hitting .375 in 17 games) for the job.

Murphy isn't in the starting lineup today against the Tigers, but he will make an appearance off the bench. He hopes to make the best of it and every other opportunity going forward.

"Obviously this is not where I wanted to be at this point," Murphy said Monday. "But I'm not going to worry about it. Whatever happens, happens. Every year there is always competition. Sometimes you're in a position where you're comfortable and sometimes you don't. I can't control that. Hopefully, I'll use this last week to finish up strong and go from there and see what happens."


> Marlins: 1. Jose Reyes SS, 2. Emilio Bonifacio CF, 3. Hanley Ramirez 3B, 4. Gaby Sanchez, 5. Omar Infante 2B, 6. Chris Coghlan LF, 7. Austin Kearns RF, 8. John Buck C, 9. Mark Buehrle P.

> Tigers: 1. Austin Jackson CF, 2. Brennan Boesch RF, 3. Jhonny Peralta SS, 4. Prince Fielder 1B, 5. Delmon Young LF, 6. Alex Avila C, 7. Ryan Raburn 2B, 8. Brandon Inge DH, 9. Audy Ciriaco 3B. Rick Porcello is pitching.

March 17, 2012

Choate hoping to make spring debut next week

JUPITER -- Randy Choate usually comes in and out of games so quickly it's often easy to miss him if you aren't paying close attention. Well, we all sort of missed him.

Turns out the 36-year old left-handed specialist has yet to pitch in any games this spring because of a strained right lateral muscle near his abdomen. Choate said it happened two weeks ago when he was "taking hacks" in the batting cages and after getting it checked out, the Marlins told him to take time off to rest it before the season.

Saturday, he threw his first bullpen since sustaining the injury and felt no pain. He says he's now on target to pitch another bullpen Monday before facing live hitters Wednesday. The hope is he'll get into a game by Friday or Saturday.

The fact he usually comes in to face just one or two hitters a game shouldn't delay his season debut.

"It was so early in spring we decided to take the time to knock it out so we wouldn't have to deal with it again," Choate said. "I'll have a week and a half, almost two weeks to get ready for the season and when you're preparing basically for one guy an outing [it should be easy]. It's not like a starter who has to build up arm strength. My arm feels so good hopefully there won't be any issues."

Choate went 1-1 with a 1.82 ERA in 24 2/3 innings last season. He retired 59 of the 74 left-handed hitters he faced in 2011, giving up just 10 hits. 

December 01, 2011

Marlins agree with closer Heath Bell to 3-year, $27 million deal according to reports

The Marlins appear to have a new closer.

Heath BellAccording to multiple sources, the Marlins and All-Star Heath Bell agreed on a three-year deal Thursday night estimated at $9 million per, all pending a physical Friday here in South Florida. ESPN first reported the story.

With the future of incumbent closer Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly known as Leo Nunez) up in the air, the Marlins have apparently been working behind the scenes on Bell for awhile.

The 34-year-old right-hander is coming off a 43-save season with the Padres that made him the only closer in baseball who has saved 40-plus games in each of the past three seasons.

Bell was 43 of 48 on save opportunities last season and finished the year with a 2.44 ERA and a WHIP of 1.15.

Assuming he passes the physical, Bell would be the first major free agent the Marlins will have signed since changing their name to the Miami Marlins and moving into the new ballpark.

The Marlins' have wined and dined All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, first baseman Albert Pujols and veteran pitchers Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson this offseason.

While Bell's strikeout rate declined in 2011, from 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010 to 7.3 this year, his average fastball velocity (94 mph), WHIP (1.15), ERA (2.44) and opponent average (.223) were all in line with his previous performance.

The Marlins led the National League in blown saves in 2010 with 25 and improved last season to sixth fewest with 19. The Marlins also owned the sixth lowest bullpen ERA in baseball (3.44) despite the fourth most innings worth of work (515 1/3). 

By signing Bell, the Marlins can now keep Edward Mujica, Steve Cishek and Mike Dunn in setup and late inning roles. Mujica went 9-6 with a team-leading 17 holds and a 2.96 ERA. Cishek was a pleasant rookie surprise, posting a 2.63 ERA while picking up three saves late in the year. Dunn went 5-6 with a 3.43 ERA.

Oviedo, meanwhile, remains in the Dominican Republic where he continues to sort out immigration issues. It wasn't certain that even if Oviedo were cleared soon the Marlins would have tendered him an offer. He stands to make up to $6 million through salary arbitration. It's likely the Marlins will now part ways.

May 01, 2011

Marlins setup man Clay Hensley has been unavailable to pitch since slipping down flight of stairs Friday at team hotel

CINCINNATI -- A day after the Marlins bullpen blew a three-run lead and cost Josh Johnson another victory, manager Edwin Rodriguez praised his ace for the way he's been able to handle the disappointment.

Clay Hensley "I've been very impressed with JJ. Not for the obvious things, everybody knows about his ability to pitch. It's the way he approaches the game. The way he controls his emotions. He's the whole package," Rodriguez said.

"If it would have been me, I would have been throwing things all over the clubhouse. He's been very, very good about it."

Turns out things might have gone a little differently Saturday if not for an unfortunate accident involving setup man Clay Hensley, who slipped down a flight of stairs at the team hotel before Friday's game and was unavailable to pitch in the first two games of this series versus the Reds with a bruised left shoulder blade.

"Just slipped. I was wearing my dress shoes and caught the step on it, hit my back pretty hard," Hensley said. ""The first day we were here I couldn't even put a shirt on because of the bruise on my left side.

"It sidelined me [Friday] for sure. [Saturday], I was kind of questionable. I threw a bullpen, but they wanted me to give it another day of rest. I had some x-rays, didn't fracture anything. It is what it is. I have to be ready to go today."

Rodriguez acknowledged he would have called on Hensley, his regular setup man, with two outs in the eighth inning Saturday. Instead, Edward Mujica came in and allowed four straight hits before being pulled for Ryan Webb, who couldn't protect the Marlins 3-2 lead at that point.

"Tough situation," Rodriguez told The Miami Herald. "We kind of had our hands tied without Clay and [closer Leo Nunez] available."

Webb was charged with the blown save, his third of the season. The Marlins, the last major league team to blow a save on April 24, have blown four saves over their last six games.

The Marlins bullpen, which owned the lowest ERA in the majors entering the series (2.10), now ranks second (2.38) behind the Padres (2.31). A year ago, the Marlins bullpen blew seven leads handed over to them by Johnson. They've already done it twice this season.

Mujica (2-1, 6.10 ERA) said Sunday he was ready to turn the page on his rough outing.

"I just [screwed] it up bad," Mujica said. "I didn't say nothing to [Johnson]. My job was to make that out. But like I said, sometimes you're not going to do your job the right way."


Before the season, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told the media he wanted All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez to go after the National League MVP trophy.

Ramirez has been anything but an MVP candidate thus far. The 2009 NL Batting Champion closed the month of April hitting .200 (17 for 85) with nine RBI. He has yet to hit a home run -- a drought that spans all the way through spring training and back to the second game of a double header against the Phillies last Sept. 6. Ramirez, who said he wanted to steal more bases in 2011, has also been successful on just three of his seven steal attempts.

"What I'm concerned about is how he's taking it, that he will keep the same energy he's been doing," Rodriguez said.

"He's been handling the situation perfectly. He's showing a lot of energy, he's pulling for his teammates even when he's struggling. I'm not concerned about the numbers he's going to put up or when he's going to start hitting. I know he's going to start hitting."

Asked if he might consider moving Ramirez out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup, Rodriguez said: "Who are we going to put in that third hole? Chris Coghlan? Then, who is going to lead off?

"I think he needs to play himself out of that whole situation... if we have one guy here who should be able to get out of that slump, it's him."


Saturday's game was the first time the Marlins got a chance to see hard-throwing Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman in person.

The experience wasn't so bad as the Marlins drew three walks and scored two runs off Chapman with a Wes Helms bases-loaded double. Chapman, who registered a pitch on April 18 at 106 miles per hour, hit 102 on the gun Saturday night.

"I faced Randy Johnson and a bunch of those guys. I'd compare him to Randy Johnson back in his day," Helms said. "Randy had a little closer release point to you, so it made it tougher. But as far as velocity goes, he throws hard. That's all you can say, he really brings it."


Before Josh Johnson finished up his seven scoreless innings Saturday night to drop his ERA to a major-league leading 0.88, he unleashed a wicked breaking ball in the dirt that left catcher John Buck bruised, but relieved he was wearing a cup.

"Cracked it right here," Buck said as he showed reporters where his NuttyBuddy protective cup was damaged. "The guy who does these takes one off the pitching machine at like 90 miles per hour. It works good. Obviously saved my testicles last night."

Pastel fish ROLLING IN STYLE: Win or lose Sunday, a few Marlins are planning on walking out of Great American Ball Park wearing some new rather colorful, stylish suits.

Josh Johnson said he Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstad and Mike Stanton purchased the suits near the team hotel shortly after going out to dinner Thursday in Cincinnati.

Johnson's suit is peach, Nolasco's is gold, Stanton's is pink and Volstad's is blue with pinstripes.

September 14, 2010

Sinkbeil gets unexpected call-up from the Marlins

With the Triple A season wrapped up, the last thing right-handed reliever Brett Sinkbeil was expecting to get Monday was a big league call up from the Marlins.

Brett Sinkbeil But with the team looking to help a bullpen that will be overworked over the next 48 hours, Sinkbeil will likely make his major league debut tonight or Wednesday against the Phillies.

“I'm thrilled. I didn't even see it coming," said Sinkbeil, who was 3-3 with a 5.71 ERA in 58 appearances for the New Orleans Zephyrs, whose season ended Sept. 6. "I was sitting back home in Oklahoma when the phone rang yesterday. I was more than a little surprised."

With Chris Volstad and Alex Sanabia serving suspensions and starters Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco shelved for the season, manager Edwin Rodriguez said he's using a committee of relievers to pitch against Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay Wednesday.

Rodriguez is leaning toward starting Burke Badenhop if he is not used Tuesday. Jorge Sosa is another candidate, but Sosa pitched two innings on Monday. Rodriguez said he's hoping to get three innings out of Badenhop before piecing together the final six innings.

Rodriguez said Sinkbeil, whom he managed in New Orleans each of the last two seasons, could be a middle innings guy.

Sinkbeil throws 95, 96 mph and Rodriguez said he has a big-league slider and sinker. He was strictly a starter his first three years in the organization but was moved to the bullpen in May of 2009.

“He has a powerful arm but his problem has been throwing strikes on a consistent basis,” Rodriguez said. "Two or three nights out there, he's lights out. No chance. But then he comes out and he's all over the place. He's throwing across his body again. It might be his body. It might be his glove, when he pulls to the side his whole body will follow his glove. That's his main problem."

Sinkbeil, 25, was the team’s top pick in 2006, taken 19th overall and ahead of 2009 Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan. So far, he's just another talented pitcher in a long line of first round picks that hasn't exactly panned out for the organization. But Rodriguez thinks being a reliever might be the perfect spot for Sinkbeil.

"He doesn't have that third pitch to be in the rotation as a starter," Rodriguez said. "Going to the pen he can go out there and throw two innings and go all out. I think he's more confident doing that with those two pitches."

Sinkbeil said he's liked the move to the 'pen. "I like having the chance to be involved in a lot more games,” Sinkbeil said. “You don’t have as much down time. You are always staying busy. It gives you a chance to be a part of the game everyday.”

> With the Marlins longshots to make the postseason, most Marlins fans would probably be happy to see the team finish at least .500. That's not good enough though for Rodriguez.

"People talk about .500. I don't know if I should say this, but .500 for me is not a good season, for any club. You should be striving to finish 10 games over .500, something like that," Rodriguez said. "I think it means a lot of positive things for a lot of people because you say it's not a losing season. But my opinion, with the talent we have here, finishing .500, I wouldn't call that a good season. I would say 85, 87 wins would be an OK season. This team has the talent to win 90 games on a consistent basis."

> Center fielder Cameron Maybin missed his second consecutive game Tuesday as he continues to battle a stomach virus. "He came in saw Sean Cunningham and we sent him the doctor," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully, it's a 24-hour thing."

Rodriguez said he doesn't think Maybin will be in Wednesday's lineup either and would use him as a pinch hitter if he were available.

August 30, 2010

Stanton aims to end slump versus Nats

Two weeks ago, Mike Stanton was the National League's Player of the Week. Now, he's trying to put an end to the worst batting slump of professional career -- an 0-for-29 stretch -- that's only four at-bats shy of tying the Marlins record set by Mike Jacobs on Aug. 10, 2007.

Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said he's "more concerned how [Stanton] is going to handle the whole slump instead of when he's going to start hitting."

"In Atlanta, I talked to him a little bit in the dugout and just told him this is what's going to make you a big league ballplayer, going stretches like this," veteran Wes Helms said Monday. "Everybody does it. Albert Pujols does it. Everybody goes through it in their career at some point and it's good he's going through it while he's young, while he's 20.

"The obvious thing to do is not get frustrated and still believe in yourself. I just keep telling him you know your skills, you know your talents. It's all about making an adjustment for you. These pitchers have made adjustments on you and now you need to make adjustments on them. The biggest thing is just don't get down on yourself and always believe what you can do. If you do that, you'll be fine. Just don't let your last five, six, seven games dictate what you do the rest of the season or the rest of your career."

> Closer Leo Nunez was not the sole reason the Marlins' bullpen blew its major-league leading 23rd game of the season Sunday in Atlanta. But the only reason Nunez is keeping his job, Rodriguez said Monday, is because the Marlins simply don't have better options.

In fact, Rodriguez said he's been pondering a change at the back of his rotation, "for a long time."

"If I had a little bit more options, he would be the setup guy right now," Rodriguez said. "I think he's having the same problem as he had last year: his location. He has the stuff to be the closer. But we don't only need the stuff. He needs to know how to pitch, how to use the location of your pitches and execute."

Before the month began, Nunez was actually pitching pretty well. In his first 46 appearances, he was 4-2 with 26 saves, five blown saves, 49 strikeouts, 11 BBs, one home run allowed and a 2.64 ERA. But in his 10 appearances this month, he's gone 0-1 with three saves, three blown saves, four homers allowed, 10 Ks, six walks and a 9.31 ERA.

During a long private meeting in the manager's office last week, Rodriguez said he told Nunez he's relying on his changeup too much. 

"If he feels he needs to throw a changeup, that's fine," Rodriguez said. "But he doesn't have to throw it for strikes. That's one thing he has to learn. Not only think about that, but execute his pitches. He needs to work on the location of his pitches.

"As soon as he walked the leadoff guy [Sunday] on four pitches, you could tell the confidence wasn't there. That's for any pitcher in the bullpen. Any pitcher has to come out of the bullpen throwing strikes. He needs to set the tempo so the hitters don't sit back on their heels. It's not only Nunez, it's the whole group. They need to step up. At some point, I have to take the starter out of the game. I can't make those guys go nine innings and 120 pitches every night."

> Shortstop Hanley Ramirez returned to the lineup Monday after leaving Sunday's game early with "light-headedness."  

"He said he's fine," Rodriguez said. "Even after the game he said he had a little bit of chest pains. It was very hot yesterday. In the first three innings, he was running all over the place. It was one of those things I guess."

> Second baseman Dan Uggla was a late scratch from the Marlins lineup. I saw him in the clubhouse with a wrap around his leg before the game. Lineup: Bonifacio 2B, Morrison LF, Ramirez SS, Sanchez 1B, Tracy 3B, Stanton RF, Maybin CF, Hayes C, Sanabia P

July 24, 2010

Marlins hope Anibal delivers some relief for 'pen

A tired Marlins bullpen will be looking for a huge assist from Anibal Sanchez tonight.

Anibal Sanchez Although it's been a fun week for the Marlins, it's also been a bit of a taxing one for the guys who sit and wait for the phone call down the right field line. With starters failing to go very deep into games lately, the Marlins have been calling down to the pen plenty.

Friday, Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez used five relievers to eat up the final 4 2/3  innings and held closer Leo Nunez out to give him a breather. Tonight, Jose Veras will get a break.

"This homestand, since we came back from the All-Star Game, the bullpen has been overloaded with work," Rodriguez said. "That showed last night. Hopefully, Anibal Sanchez can give us at least six strong innings today."

> As expected, Chris Volstad will start Sunday for the Marlins. Rodriguez had been holding off on making the decision final because he wanted to see how Volstad felt after throwing 70 pitches in a Triple A start on Wednesday. Rodriguez said all he is hoping to get out of Volstad is five to six innings, thus the importance for the Marlins pen to stay fresh.

Sent down to the minors for some tweaking for the second year in a row, Volstad was 4-8 with a 4.78 ERA this season when he was sent down on July 6. In that last start against the Dodgers, he gave up five earned runs on five hits (two homers) and he also walked three. Volstad hasn't won a decision since he beat the Rays on June 13 in Tampa. In three starts in New Orleans, he went 1-0 with a 3.17 ERA with nine walks and 13 strikeouts.

"He has to command his pitches -- sinker, fastball, slider and changeup -- better," Rodriguez said. "He was pitching behind in the count when he was here. He went to New Orleans and worked with the pitching coach there, Scott Mitchell. I think that's what they were trying to do. I don't know if it was a mechanical issue or more of a mental approach, but hopefully he'll get here tomorrow and attack the hitters more."

The Marlins will announce the move after Saturday's game.

> Hanley Ramirez still hasn't shaken himself out of his funk at the plate, but at least he's beginning to carry his weight more with his glove. Friday night, he made three impressive defensive plays, one made the eighth best play on SportsCenter's Top 10.

"He needs to realize we need his offense, but we also need him on the field making plays," Rodriguez said. "I really feel like he kept us in the game with those big plays he made last night. As long as he understands we need the offense and we also need him to be a two-dimensional player, we'll be OK."

July 03, 2010

Is Leo Nunez relying on his change up too much?

ATLANTA -- Marlins closer Leo Nunez said one reason he's blown back-to-back saves is because he's been leaving pitches up in the zone a little too often lately. Manager Edwin Rodriguez, however, has a different take.

Leo Nunez "I think he needs to go back to being a power pitcher, using his fastball and slider more," Rodriguez said Saturday. "He's using his changeup way too much. His changeup is only going to be effective if he uses his fastball. If he keeps throwing changeups after changeups, that's going to become his primary pitch... we're trying to get him to start using that strategy, approach more. He's a power guy, a power pitcher. He should us his fastball and slider."

Nunez, who has now blown five of his 21 save opportunities this season, couldn't get an out in the 11th inning Friday night despite being handed a 3-2 lead. He walked Brian McCann on four pitches to start the inning, then gave a double to Troy Glaus on a changeup before Omar Infante singled them home on a fastball to rally the Braves to a 4-3 win.

"The pitches were good," Nunez said of Friday's blown save. "I think it was just one of those days. There are days when you try to do your job, but things happen. I tried my best."

Nunez, who blew off reporters after the game, said Saturday the use of his changeup has been "normal." According to's pitch tracker, of the 15 pitches Nunez threw Friday, only two were changeups. When he blew a save in the Marlins 7-6 win over the Mets Tuesday, Nunez threw 13 pitches and 10 were changeups.

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire told reporters during the spring Nunez was guilty of tipping his pitches last season based on the way he was holding his glove. Nunez gave up 13 home runs, among the leaders in baseball and blew seven save opportunities in 33 chances. 

Friday's blown save might have been the result of him making the adjustment of using his fastball more and leaving it up in the zone.

UGGLA AN ALL-STAR?: When the All-Star rosters are released at noon Sunday, most expect shortstop Hanley Ramirez and ace Josh Johnson to be on the team. But second baseman Dan Uggla could also earn a trip to Anaheim. 

With the Phillies' Chase Utley (thumb surgery) expected to be on the disabled list for two months, Uggla could potentially earn a spot on the team along with the Braves Martin Prado or Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips. Uggla, who entered the week third in the voting behind Utley and Prado, leads all NL second basemen in homers (15) and ranks second in RBI (46).

"I think Uggla deserves it," Rodriguez said. "He's having a very good year and started very strong for us. Although his average has suffered a little bit, he's still the same power guy, clutch hitter and his defense is there."

The Marlins haven't sent more than two players to the All-Star game since they sent four in 2005: Luis Castillo, Paul Lo Duca, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. 

PLAN FOR MURPHY: Brian Barden's failure to get down a bunt on a suicide squeeze in the 11th inning Friday likely had nothing to do with why he was designated for assignment after the game.

Donnie Murphy, who was selected from Triple A New Orleans to replace Barden on the Marlins bench, said he was taken out of the Zephyr's game in Nashville Friday in the sixth inning. That was well before Barden failed to lay down a bunt, then struckout with runners on second and third in the 11th inning. 

"I'm looking for more offense than defense in that position. So, that's why we decided to bring Donnie Murphy up, he's more of an offensive player than Brian Barden," Rodriguez said. "It's very unfair to say Barden is not going to be able to do it. He hasn't played in a while. Donnie Murphy was playing down in Triple A every day and I think he can help us more."

Rodriguez said because the team has been using Wes Helms earlier in the game and more often in double switches for Jorge Cantu or Gaby Sanchez, they needed a bat for the late innings. "I think Murphy could do that job," Rodriguez said.

Murphy's primary position is shortstop, but like Barden could play second or third base if needed. "It’s a good feeling to be back up here," said Murphy, who last played in the big leagues with the Oakland A's at the end of the 2008 season. "Hopefully, I can help this team out."

July 02, 2010

Rodriguez wants to put Marlins bench to work

ATLANTA -- It might not happen very often during this weekend's series against the first-place Braves, but Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said Friday he plans to start giving his bench some more playing time so when he calls on them to pinch hit in tough situations, they can deliver. 

Emilio Bonifacio The Marlins, who ranked fifth in baseball last season in pinch hitting batting average (.280), have become one of the worst teams at it this season. They rank 24th overall with a .187 average (20 for 107) and have only 15 pinch-hit RBI. Entering Friday's series-opener at Turner Field, the Marlins are 0 for their last 16 in pinch hit situations. The last pinch hit: a run-scoring triple from Wes Helms in a loss to the Phillies on June 8th.

Wednesday night in San Juan, Rodriguez turned to his bench three times against the Mets, twice with runners in scoring position. Mike Lamb, who is only 5 for 27 in pinch hit situations (.185) this season, grounded out to the pitcher with runners on the corners and the score tied at 4 in the fifth. Wes Helms later flew out to deep center with runners on first and second for the final out in the eighth inning and the Marlins down a run. The Marlins lost 6-5.

"It's very tough to come off the bench and get a clutch hit facing a closer who throws 95 or 96 when you haven't played in a week or 10 days," Rodriguez said. "I'm very aware of that.

"My plan is to put them a little bit more often in the lineup, that way they can get their timing back."

The truth is other than Wes Helms, the Marlins bench has hardly contributed at all this season. Emilio Bonifacio, recalled from Triple A on June 6, has made only one start this season and is 0 for 10 in pinch hit situations. Lamb, sent down to Triple A twice, has made only one start and has only 30 at bats overall. Catcher Brett Hayes hasn't started since June 4th and has had only two at-bats since. Infielder Brian Barden, a defensive specialist, has made only two starts and is actually among the better pinch hitters having gone 2 for 5 with an RBI in those situations.

"It's not easy and it's something I'm still learning and getting adjusted to mentally," said Bonifacio, who had 16 career pinch hit at-bats before this season. "Each day I feel better, have more confidence. But I'm not there yet. I'm used to playing every day."

Last season, the Marlins had one of the best 1-2 punches off the bench with Ross Gload and Helms, who ranked first and second in the National League in pinch hits. Helms, who is hitting .252 overall this season, is only 4 for 26 (.154) in pinch hit situations season.

"If we want to win the division, we have to get those bench players, the extra players in good condition to go out there and be more effective," Rodriguez said. "And I think [playing them] is the best way to do it."

A NEW VERAS: When the Marlins signed Jose Veras to a minor league contract in the offseason, they were hoping the former setup man for Mariano Rivera would turn out to be their next great bullpen find off the scrap heap.

Jose Veras When he was sent down to the minors on April 13 with a 15.43 ERA, it looked like the none of the relievers the Marlins signed in the offseason were going to pay off. But the hard-throwing Dominican right-hander might turn out to be a find just yet. 

Since being recalled from New Orleans on June 25th, Veras has been dominant in four appearances, giving up just two hits and two walks while striking out six in five scoreless innings.

The secret to his success: better control and a new pitch, a changeup. Veras, 29, baffled several Mets this past week in San Juan with the changeup, a pitch he said he spent a couple weeks working on to add back to his arsenal down in Triple A. Veras, a starter with the Rays early in his career, used to throw a changeup. But when he was put in the bullpen, he said he was urged to use only his fastball and his slider. 

"I got a good feel for it," Veras said. "I can throw it for a strike, down in the zone. I feel confident when throw it, like my breaking ball. You throw a fastball 95, 96 and throw a change up, that's a 10 mile per hour difference. If you can get them to roll over to pop up, that's what you want."

Rodriguez, who managed Veras in Triple A, said Veras got behind in the count too often and wasn't aggressive enough.

"When you throw 95, 96, you don't have to be painting the corners," Rodriguez said. "He was trying to be too perfect, throwing fastballs 96, 97 miles per hour on the corner.

"I think he threw about three or four of them [in Puerto Rico], which is good enough. Just to show them, just to keep them off balance. It doesn't have to be his main or secondary pitch. His first pitch is his fastball, his second pitch his slider. Against left handed hitters, if he can show that changeup, that's going to be very effective. It will make his primary pitches better."

And it could potentially make the Marlins bullpen a lot better too. With Clay Hensley, the team's setup man returning Friday from a left neck strain, the Marlins may finally have the back end of their pen set.

"If he keep pitching the way he was pitching in Puerto Rico, that's going to be a big help for the bullpen," Rodriguez said. "Having Veras, Clay Hensley and Tim Wood, Tankersley as situational left-hander, the bullpen could shape up in a positive way."

> Catcher Ronny Paulino, who was scheduled to start his 24th game in a row, will get his first day off since June 4th on Sunday.

> Rodriguez said third baseman Jorge Cantu was battling dizziness Wednesday because of the heat in San Juan. Rodriguez said Cantu told him he was fine Friday and no longer feeling any symptoms. "Just overheating," Cantu said. 

Hensley's return bolsters bullpen

ATLANTA -- As expected, the Marlins recalled right-hander Clay Hensley from the disabled list Friday, a move that will definitely help the team's struggling bullpen.

Hensley, who last pitched June 11th and went on the disabled list six days later with a left neck strain, has been the second-most reliable arm in the bullpen this season behind closer Leo Nunez. In 27 appearances, he has a 2.51 ERA (lowest among those in the bullpen) and a 1.114 WHIP (second only to Nunez, 1.041).

The Marlins sent veteran right-hander Scott Strickland (9.00 ERA, 3 games) back down to Triple A New Orleans to make room for Hensley.

LUNA NAMED TRIPLE A ALL-STAR: New Orleans third baseman Hector Luna has been named to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team. In his first season in the Marlins organization, Luna, 30, is batting .307 with the Zephyrs, and ranks fifth in the PCL with 14 home runs and 54 RBI.

The 2010 Triple-A All-Star Game will take place Wednesday, July 14 in Allentown, Pennsylvania at Lehigh Valley's Coca-Cola Park.