April 13, 2016

Giancarlo Stanton: "That game doesn't get won last year"

NEW YORK -- Dee Gordon's 16-pitch at bat. Martin Prado's pinch-hit sacrifice fly. Derek Dietrich's two-out RBI single. The bullpen's four scoreless innings.

Add it all up, and the Marlins played arguably their most complete game in recent memory when they squeaked out a close win over the Mets on Tuesday.

"That game doesn't get won last year," Giancarlo Stanton said. "I feel like there was a lot of games last year where we just waited to lose rather than try to win. Something went wrong."

That wasn't the case Tuesday.

On a bitter cold night at Citi Field, a night when the Mets' Noah Syndergaard was dealing, the Marlins somehow prevailed in a 2-1 victory. It wasn't one Marlins player who made the difference. It was darn near every one of the 16 whose name showed up in the box score.

Take Jose Fernandez. His first two innings were a struggle. He gave up a run in the first and had totaled 51 pitches in the first two innings. But he worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second and retired the final 10 batters he faced -- striking out the last four -- to keep the Marlins in the game.

"It was hard to get a grip on the ball," Fernandez said of the frigid conditions. ""I was trying to make a good pitch and trying to keep the boys in the game. The weather was rough, but you've got to battle."

Here are some of the other highlights:

-- After Justin Bour kept the fourth inning alive by beating the shift, grounding a single through the vacated left side of the infield, Dietrich singled off Syndergaard to drive in the Marlins' first run and tie the score.

-- In the eighth, when Jim Henderson took over for Syndergaard, Gordon worked a Marlins record 16-pitch at bat in which he ended it with a leadoff single. Gordon stole second. One out later, Henderson walked Christian Yelich and Stanton, loading the bases.

-- Prado, who didn't start Tuesday, was "running and jumping up and down" in the clubhouse, trying to get warm. Prado knew he would go in to pinch-hit for Bour if the Mets brought in a lefty, which they did when Terry Collins called on Jerry Blevins. Prado lofted a fly ball to right that was deep enough to score Gordon from third with the go-ahead run.

-- David Phelps came out of the bullpen for the Marlins and delivered two scoreless innings.

-- A.J. Ramos closed out the victory in the ninth.

"It wasn't one through nine," Stanton said of the individual contributions. "It was one through 15 or 16. That's huge. That's what it's going to need to be."

 

April 12, 2016

Bonds: A-Rod won't break HR record in 2 years

NEW YORK -- I'm not really sure why this is being portrayed as some great pronouncement, but Barry Bonds was quoted as saying he didn't think Alex Rodriguez would break his home record before the end of the 2017 season.

Rodriguez needs 74 more homers to tie -- and 75 to break -- Bonds' all-time mark of 762.

"No, not in two years," Bonds told the New York Daily News. (Here's the link: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/barry-bonds-alex-rodriguez-won-catch-home-run-record-article-1.2596993)

Let me take this a step further by saying I strongly doubt A-Rod will break the record even if he plays beyond 2017, the year his contract expires. And that's a big if.

Rodriguez turns 41 in July. He hit 33 home runs last year for the Yankees, but hasn't hit as many as 37 home runs in a season since 2007. The math doesn't add up for A-Rod.

Something else to consider: according to baseballreference.com, the Major League record for most home runs hit by a player over the age of 40 (going by a player's age on June 30) is 72, and it belongs to Carlton Fisk. The most home runs for a player over the age of 41 belongs to Bonds himself: 54.

April 01, 2016

Giancarlo Stanton takes on team of Little Leaguers...in tug of war!

       Pitchers don't like facing Giancarlo Stanton.

       But how about an entire team of Little League players?

       In a Major League Baseball promotional ad, Stanton takes one end of the rope while a team of youngsters from West Palm Beach grab hold of the other in a game of tug of war.

       The ad doesn't show which side ends up winning. But it appears the Little Leaguers are gaining the advantage -- albeit with Stanton holding on to the rope with one hand.

       

March 29, 2016

Justin Maxwell, Don Kelly granted releases, roster trimmed to 35

JUPITER -- With a week remaining to Opening Day, the Marlins on Tuesday trimmed four players from the roster to bring the number left in camp to 35.

Outfielder Justin Maxwell and infielder Don Kelly were granted their releases while right-handed pitchers Jose Urena and Nefi Ogando were optioned to Triple A New Orleans.

Though Maxwell and Kelly are now free to explore the market, there's a chance both could return to the organization if they can't find any takers.

"(President of baseball operations) Mike Hill left that possibility open, that if I can't find a job, they'd be more than happy to come back and wear a Marlins uniform," Maxwell said.

The same is true of Kelly, who spent almost all of last season on the disabled list and later underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm.

The most intriguing names remaining in camp are outfielder Cole Gillespie and pitcher Brad Hand. Gillespie is out of minor-league options and, with no room on the roster for an outfielder, would have to clear waivers -- an unlikely event -- if the Marlins decide not to keep him. Likewise, Hand is also out of options. The Marlins would prefer not to lose either. Those decision must be made within the coming days.

March 23, 2016

Giancarlo Stanton blasts his first spring training home run

JUPITER -- It took him most of spring training, but Giancarlo Stanton finally connected on his first home run, a solo shot to center off the Cardinals' Trevor Rosenthal.

"It's good to get on top of one," Stanton said.

Not only was it Stanton's first homer this spring, it was his first since June of last season -- before he broke the hamate bone in his left hand.

It's not like Stanton has had a ton of chances in spring training. He missed some time with a sore knee, and his at bat in the seventh inning was only his 17th this spring.

"I'm roughly where I'm at," he said of his progress so far this spring. "I don't necessarily need a certain amount of at bats, rather than a feel in spring."

Stanton has been experimenting with an Axe bat, which has a tapered handle to relieve pressure on his hand. But he's also continuing to use his Marcucci bat, which is what he used Wednesday when he hit the homer.

 

March 22, 2016

Fernandez, Jackson, Breslow, Ramos combine to one-hit the Red Sox

Fernandez

Jose Fernandez began his Tuesday by talking to a throng of reporters about the Rays’ exhibition game in his native Cuba.

Three hours later, the Marlins’ ace was busy keeping the Boston Red Sox scoreless and hitless.

Fernandez’s third start of the spring began a combined one-hitter by him, Edwin Jackson, Craig Breslow and A.J. Ramos.

Fernandez walked one batter in the first inning in which he threw 19 pitches. He became increasingly efficient as the outing went on, retiring the final 13 batters he faced and striking out four.

“We’re just following the game plan and [catcher Jeff] Mathis called the game perfect,” Fernandez said. “The result was there so I’m pretty happy. I feel like I accomplished something today.”

Fernandez threw 60 pitches, 41 of which were strikes and only threw seven pitches for balls from the second inning on.

It was a sharper outing for Fernandez in terms of results than his previous spring start March 17 against the Mets when he gave up six earned runs on five hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings.

“Last start the result wasn’t there, but I felt the location was good and the pitches were good. Today I was trying to keep the same level and not to get too up or down too much.”

Fernandez, who is slated to make his first start of the regular season April 6 at Marlins Park where he is 17-0 for his career, has been working on improving his changeup’s effectiveness this spring.

“It’s a pitch that will help me a lot and the team a lot,” Fernandez said. “It keeps hitters guessing a little more. I didn’t use it more in high school and in the minor leagues I didn’t use it much. It’s something that takes away from breaking balls and lets me mix more and take care of my arm and body more.”

EDWIN JACKSON SHARP AS WELL

Edwinjackson

Edwin Jackson looked sharper as well in two hitless innings of his own.

Jackson, who has thrown mostly on the back fields of Roger Dean Stadium this spring while working closely with new Marlins pitching coaches Juan Nieves and Jim Benedict, struck out two batters as he faced the minimum amount of batters.

            “Edwin’s messing around with a cutter now and it looks like it will be a good pitch for him,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Sometimes you throw the ball good and you don’t get a good result, but the ball was coming out good and hitters were taking swings that were not very good, so that was good to see.”

Marlins send nine to minors including Barraclough, Nicolino and Ellington

The Marlins optioned nine players to the minors Tuesday including starter Justin Nicolino and relievers Kyle Barraclough and Brian Ellington.

The three pitchers, along with catcher Tomas Telis, were optioned to Triple-A New Orleans.

The Marlins reassigned outfielders Isaac Galloway and Destin Hood, right-handed pitchers Paul Clemens and Andre Rienzo and catcher Francisco Arcia to minor-league camp.

Barraclough and Ellington, both hard-throwing righties, were being considered as potential middle relief or set-up options in the wake of reliever Carter Capps’ season-ending injury.

In 2015, Barraclough,went 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 25 relief appearances last season, allowed eight runs (seven earned) in 24 1/3 innings and posted 30 strikeouts and 18 walks. This spring, Barraclough made six appearances and went 4 2/3 innings. He didn’t allow a run in his first four outings, but gave up a combined three in his last two and walked three batters, striking out only two.

Ellington had similar numbers in 2015, going 2-1 with a 2.88 ERA in 23 appearances and 25 innings. He allowed 10 runs (eight earned), struck out 18 and walked 13. This spring, he made five appearances against major league teams, and went four innings, allowing six runs (four earned), six walks and had four strikeouts.

"Those two are guys we feel like through the course of this summer will be big for us," Mattingly said. "Both of those guys’ fastball command was an issue in spring training. In terms of power stuff, Barraclough probably has the best slider coming out of our bullpen. But you have to get to that pitch. As a power arm, you want him to get ahead in the counts and puts the hitter on defense."

 

Nicolino had been competing for a spot in the team’s rotation to start the season. Last year, he also began the year at Triple-A before being called up after injuries to starters.

Nicolino made 12 starts at the big-league level in 2015 and went 5-4 with a 4.01 ERA in 74 innings pitched, making two starts in June following an injury to Tom Koehler. He was then sent back down to the minors and recalled in August following an injury to Jose Fernandez and pitched in the rotation for the remainder of the season.

With a mostly pitch to contact style so far in his career, Nicolino had only 23 strikeouts and 20 walks. This spring, he made two starts and three appearances overall this spring, and went 0-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 8 1/3 innings with two strikeouts and no walks. He retired 22 of the 31 batters he faced either by ground outs (12) or fly ball outs (10).

"For us with Nicolino it was a matter of getting him ready," Mattingly said. "We know we’re going to need him during the course of the season. Nico is definitely a starting pitcher and a guy we think will pitch in the majors for a long time."

 

March 19, 2016

Adam Conley strengthening case to be in starting rotation

Conley

The weather was about as nasty as it could be Saturday afternoon around 2 p.m. at Roger Dean Stadium.

Adam Conley was so zoned in, it might as well have been a sunny day.

In a game that was halted and later cancelled after two scoreless innings due to a severe thunderstorm, Conley struck out all six Tigers batters he faced as he continued to increase his chances of landing one of the team’s available spots in the starting pitching rotation.

“Adam was very good again and that’s what we’ve been seeing all spring,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s been on the attack pitching off his fastball with no hesitation in what he’s trying to do and that shows real confidence.

“For a young guy that had a good year last year and maybe the breakthrough that he needed, that confidence is carrying over to this season so far.”

            Conley was remarkably efficient, throwing 29 pitches with 22 for strikes. Five of his strikeouts were swinging.

“Basically all spring there’s been a progression beginning with establishing the fastball for strikes early, throwing it for strikes late, getting ahead and expanding the zone and progressing speeds with the changeup,” Conley said. “I pitched to our minor-league affiliate team last time I threw. In this case, it was an AL team that I’m not going to see a lot. So it gave me the freedom to throw my best stuff all day and make guys miss.”

The Marlins were hoping for potentially a four-inning outing closer to the 70 pitch mark. Conley said he’ll likely target a start of about five innings to compensate for Saturday.

            Conley handled the unpredictable situation very effectively as the weather began to deteriorate even before he threw his first pitch.

“I was trying to stay in the present moment,” said Conley, who was born in Redmond, Washington and pitched at Washington State University. “I’m no stranger to the rain. More or less my entire 2013 season in the minors, every game I pitched had some sort of rain delay or was affected by rain. I grew up in the northwest and played baseball with rain all the time. It’s just something that you just roll with it.”

            Conley, 25, entered the spring in competition for likely the fifth spot in the rotation with Edwin Jackson, David Phelps, Jose Urena, Kendry Flores.

Conley’s dominance and consistency have made him the favorite to join a rotation likely shaping up to consist of Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen, Tom Koehler, Jarred Cosart and him in an order to be determined.

Conley appeared in 15 games in his rookie season last year and made 11 starts, going 4-1 overall with a 3.76 ERA in 67 innings. Conley had a 3.68 ERA as a starter in 58 2/3 innings and finished with 59 strikeouts and 21 walks overall.

Mattingly described Conley as “being on a mission” the entire spring so far.

“I've been on [a mission] for a long time,” Conley said. “Obviously, the results were great today. But for me, the pursuit is not to strike out the first six guys in the game.

“It’s the never-ending process of no matter how many pitches I throw or how many swings I see I will always learn from it.”

January 18, 2016

Longtime sportswriter Juan C. Rodriguez passes away after three-year battle with brain cancer

            Juan Rodriguez, the Miami Marlins beat writer for the Sun Sentinel and a former Miami Herald sportswriter, passed away Monday after a three-year long battle with brain cancer.

            Rodriguez worked for The Herald and the Florida Today in Melbourne before joining the Sun Sentinel in July 2002.

Marlins President David Samson took a moment during Monday’s press conference to announce Dee Gordon’s contract extension to express the team’s condolences to Rodriguez’s family.

            “I’d be remiss if we didn’t mention today that we’re here with heavy hearts as we remember Juan Rodriguez,” Samson said. “He was a great man. We are thinking about his wife, Tiffany, his kids, Laura and Ryan. I just wanted to say that I hope Juan is in a better place now and our thoughts are with his wife and his family.”

            Rodriguez collapsed while covering the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville in December of 2012 and was later diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Rodriguez underwent several months of chemotherapy and eventually a number of surgeries to eradicate the original and additional tumors that developed following his original diagnosis.

            Born in Madrid, Spain, Rodriguez grew up in New York City and McAllen, Texas before his family moved to Miami in 1985. He graduated from the University of Minnesota.

Rodriguez is survived by his wife, Tiffany, and their two young children Laura and Ryan.

            A fundraiser was set up to help Rodriguez’s family help cover their medical expenses during Rodriguez’s fight with cancer.

If you would like to contribute, here’s the link to donate:

https://www.youcaring.com/juan-rodriguez-and-family-429305#.Vp1Pwsgv-2Q.twitter

December 08, 2015

Numerous teams interested in Marcell Ozuna; Jose Fernandez trade rumors continue

NASHVILLE -- At least seven to 10 teams have touched base with the Marlins concerning Marcell Ozuna, sources are telling me, increasing the likelihood that the outfielder will be traded at some point. The Marlins are seeking young, controllable starting pitching in return.

But there is clearly demand for Ozuna.

One team that has shown interest is the Yankees, according to George King III of the New York Post:

According to a person familiar with the Marlins’ thinking, they aren’t opposed to dealing outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who interests the Yankees despite the 25-year-old right-handed hitter batting .259 with 10 homers, 44 RBIs and a .691 OPS last season. When the Marlins sent him to Triple-A for 33 games, he batted .317 with a .937 OPS.

The Marlins have liked Bryan Mitchell as a starter and Adam Warren as a reliever, but it will take more than that to get Ozuna because some talent evaluators believe he is on the cusp of a breakout season.

The Marlins could decide to improve their bargaining position for Ozuna by waiting for the top free agent outfielders -- Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton -- to sign and allow the trade market to heat up.

______________

Despite a flat-out declaration from Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill that Jose Fernandez is "not available," rumors continue to persist that the team could be looking to trade the pitcher.

ESPN's Jayson Stark is reporting this morning that, in addition to the Yankees, Dodgers and Diamondbacks, a "mystery team" is in discussions with the Marlins for Fernandez (CBSsports.com's Jon Heyman reported that the Diamondbacks are now "out.")

My strong sense is that the Marlins do not intend to deal Fernandez -- at least not now. Or not unless some team is willing to meet the Marlins' pie-in-sky demands for the ace hurler.

But the Marlins also know that Fernandez will have to be traded at some point, whether it's now, the July 31 trade deadline, or next year.

In talking with teams, could the Marlins merely be gauging the market to assess Fernandez's actual trade value for when that time comes? I posed that thought to one baseball insider with knowledge of the Marlins' thinking and was told this: "You're right on it."

When Hill was asked about Fernandez last night, with owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson sitting within earshot, he was emphatic. "He's not available."

That doesn't mean the Marlins aren't listening to what teams have to offer, or that they would automatically reject a bonanza haul for Fernandez. That would be foolish. But if the Marlins were really entertaining a trade for the pitcher, it's more likely Hill would have couched his comments to give himself and the Marlins some leeway if and when they deal their star.