August 23, 2014

Base runners add up to big night for Marlins

DENVER -- Henderson Alvarez was left shaking his head after the Marlins erupted for a 13-5 win over the Rockies last night. Coors Field has a way of doing that to pitchers, and Alvarez was no exception.

"It's crazy," Alvarez said of pitching in the ballpark, which is not conducive to low ERA's.

Alvarez and the Marlins emerged victorious even though the pitcher was in battle mode throughout, giving up 10 hits, including a pair of two-run homers over six innings.

Pitching at altitude for the first time, Alvarez said he experienced shortness of breath while on the mound.

Colorado's pitchers were likely a bit winded, too. After all, the Marlins kept them occupied by putting 26 runners on base by base hit, walk or hit batsman. According to baseballreference.com, that's the most base runners for the Marlins in a 9-inning game since 2008 when they put 30 aboard at -- you guess it -- Coors Field in an 18-17 loss to Colorado.

The Marlins on Friday totaled 16 hits, walked nine times and recorded one hit batsman when (who else?) Reed Johnson was plunked by a pitch.

The 26 Marlins to reach base tied for 10th-most on the franchise's all-time list in a 9-inning game.

August 21, 2014

Does winning a bunch of one-run games pay off?

The Marlins went into their off-day Thursday leading the majors in walk-off wins (11), one-run wins (32) and wins in their last at-bat (21). 

So does being great at winning tight games pay off? History shows us the majority of the teams that have won at least 32 one-run games in a season since 1993 have gone on to do some good things.

A dozen made the playoffs, two won the World Series (2005 White Sox and 1997 Marlins) and seven reached the League Championship Series. Only one of those 22 teams finished with a losing record: the 2000 Marlins, who wound up third in the NL East at 79-82.

Here's the list of the 23 teams since 1993 that have won at least 32 one-run games during the season. Remember, the Marlins (63-63) have 36 games left on the slate. The record for the most one-run wins in a season belongs to the 1978 Giants (42-26). They finished 89-73 and third in the NL West.

1. 1993 Royals 38-32. Finished 84-78 and 3rd in the AL West
2. 1993 Braves 37-22. Finished 104-58 and lost to the Phillies in NLCS
3. 2005 White Sox 35-19. Finished 99-63 and won the World Series
4. 2009 Mariners 35-20. Finished 85-77 and 3rd in the AL West
5. 1998 Mets 35-26. Finished 88-74 and 2nd in NL East
6. 2013 Diamondbacks 34-21. Finished 81-81 and 2nd in NL West
7. 2002 Dodgers 33-15. Finished 92-70 and 3rd in NL West
8. 2004 A's 33-19. Finished 99-66 and lost to the Twins in ALDS
9. 1997 Braves 33-20. Finished 101-61 and lost to the Marlins in the NLCS
10. 2011 Giants 33-22. Finished 86-76 and 2nd in NL West
11. 1996 Dodgers 33-23. Finished 90-72 and lost to the Braves in NLDS
12. 1996 Expos 33-23. Finished 88-74 and 2nd in NL East
13. 2005 Angels 33-26. Finished 95-67 and lost to White Sox in ALCS
14. 2002 A's 32-14. Finished 103-59 and lost to the Twins in ALDS
15. 2004 Dodgers 32-16. Finished 93-69 and lost to the Cardinals in NLDS
16. 2014 Marlins 32-19. Currently 63-63 and 3 games back in the Wild Card race
17. 2007 Diamondbacks 32-20. Finished 90-72 and lost to the to Rockies in NLCS
18. 2000 Marlins 32-20. Finished 79-82 and 3rd in NL East
19. 2006 A's 32-22. Finished 93-69 and lost to Tigers in ALCS
20. 1997 Marlins 32-22. Finished 92-70 and won the World Series
21. 1996 Padres 32-23. Finished 91-71 and lost to the Cardinals in NLDS
22. 2000 Angels 32-23. Finished 82-80 and 3rd in AL West
23. 1993 Expos 32-24. Finished 94-68 and 2nd in NL East

MARLINS HISTORY (MOST ONE-RUN GAMES IN A SEASON)

1. 1993 Marlins 62, 25-37
2. 1998 Marlins 60, 31-29
3. 2011 Marlins 59, 27-32
4. 2013 Marlins 59, 24-35
5. 1997 Marlins 54, 32-22
6. 2003 Marlins 53, 30-23
7. 2000 Marlins 52, 32-20
8. 2012 Marlins 52, 26-26
9. 2014 Marlins 51, 32-19
10. 2010 Marlins 50, 23-28
11. 2009 Marlins 50, 30-20

August 20, 2014

Yelich, Ozuna red-hot at the plate as the Marlins head out on 9-game road trip

The Marlins are hitting the road for an important nine-game road trip beginning Friday in Colorado and Giancarlo Stanton isn't the only hot bat they're taking with them.

His outfield mates have been catching fire of late.

Left fielder Christian Yelich recorded his third straight three-hit game in Wednesday's 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers, completing an impressive home stand in which he hit .514 (19 for 37) with six runs, four doubles and two RBI.

Center fielder Marcell Ozuna, who was hitting .170 with only six RBI in his first 26 games after the All-Star Break, closed out the final six games of the Marlins' homestand 9-for-23 and with home runs in back-to-back games against the Rangers.

"He's a streaky guy and this would be a heck of a time for him to get on a big streak," Redmond said of Ozuna, who is now hitting .261 with 18 homers and 65 RBI on the season. "It looks like maybe he's starting."

Yelich's success is just a continuation of what he did in July when his 33 hits were the most in a single month his career. Back on June 6 he was hitting .240. After his three hits Wednesday his average is now .288.

"I haven't changed anything," Yelich said of his approach at the plate. "The stuff is finding holes. It's how baseball works. You can be hitting line drives right at people's chests and people think you're struggling. Or you can just have the ball find holes and people ask 'Well what's going different for you?' You kind of just try and ride it out as long as you can."

> Redmond said after Wednesday's game left-hander Brad Hand will start Sunday in Colorado over veteran right-hander Brad Penny.

Frustrated Casey McGehee lets off steam with bat breaking display

Sometimes you just got to let off a little steam.

For struggling Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee that moment game in the eighth inning Tuesday night. When McGehee whiffed and completed just his second 0-for-5 night of the season he took his frustrations out on his Louisville Slugger, snapping it over his knee and then flipping it to the ground in disgust.

The Marlins of course came back to win 4-3 in the bottom of the 10th making McGehee feel better about his rough day.

"I wish I wouldn't have done it," he said. "I was just frustrated. Obviously a big spot in the game. I just really wasn't happy with the at-bat I put out there. At the end of the day I have to be a little more grown up than that. At the same time I feel like part of my plan is the fact I kind of live and die on every pitch. Every once and a while it gets the better of me. In hindsight I wish I would have handled myself a little better. But it's coming from the right place. 

"Sometimes you got to just blow off some steam. In a weird way after that I kind of felt better, like I was back to my old self, past the frustration."

Since the All-Star Break, McGehee has been hitting just .228 at the plate (26 for 114) and he has only seven RBI in 30 games.

He said it's not the first time he's broken a bat over his leg.

"It's not the first time, but it was one of those games where every pitch was so important," McGehee said. "Just wanted it a little bit too much right there."

August 18, 2014

Marlins vs. Rangers to feature upside-down pitching showdowns

Not counting the All-Star break, the Marlins are enjoying their first non-travel off day at home since June 30. When they return Tuesday to face the Texas Rangers, the series will involve a pair of backward pitching matchups, with the Marlins sending out a couple of Texas natives in Jarred Cosart and Nathan Eovaldi and the Rangers countering with two hurlers hailing from South Florida in Miles Mikolas and Nick Martinez.

(Check out my story on Cosart by clicking here.)

At any rate...

Mikolas went to Jupiter High before attending Nova Southeastern University while Martinez was born in Miami and attended Belen Jesuit. In other words, expect a fair amount of cheering for the two homegrown South Florida pitchers when they're on the mound for the Rangers.

Cosart and Eovaldi were both raised south of Houston and played for rival high schools, Clear Creek (Cosart) and Alvin (Eovaldi).

....Meanwhile, Giancarlo Stanton's MVP fan club is beginning to form. Here's a piece from Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com on why he feels Stanton deserves the award as well as this one from the Miami Herald's own Greg Cote.

In the meantime, for your off-day viewing pleasure, check out these two videos that involve Martinez and Mikolas. In the first, when Martinez played for Fordham following his Belen Jesuit days, he was in the on-deck circle (and you'll catch a brief glimpse of him) on one of the best plays at the plate you'll ever see. Of course, if this play took place in a major league game, there would be a six minute video review and the runner would have been safe one way or the other because the catcher was blocking the plate. Without further ado.....

Next up is this video of Mikolas when he was with the San Diego Padres and consumed a lizard. Warning: this video contains some foul language at the end….

August 16, 2014

No decision yet -- Hand or Penny -- for 5th spot in rotation

With Henderson Alvarez back on the mound tonight for the Marlins after spending the past couple of weeks on the disabled list, manager Mike Redmond now has six starters on his staff. And that means, of course, one of them -- either Brad Hand or Brad Penny -- will be moving to the pen.

"We're not actually going to need a fifth starter until Sunday, so that'll either be Hand or Brad Penny," Redmond said. "We haven't decided yet. With the off days coming up, it allows us to mix and match a little bit."

Since Hand started on Friday, Penny will be available in the bullpen for tonight's game. Hand will head down there, as well, after he's had time to recover.

"Over the next few days, those guys will pitch out of the bullpen if we need them, give us some more depth down there," Redmond said.

The Marlins optioned Anthony DeSclafani to Triple A New Orleans following Friday's game, creating the need for a long reliever.

So what will decide whether it's Hand or Penny remaining in the rotation?

"Probably just a feel thing, I guess," Redmond said. "Gives us a couple of days to think about it. I was hoping for one of them to really make a clear and easy decision. It hasn't been. So do we want to go with a guy who has the experience, or a young guy? So that'll be my decision and we'll work on that the next couple of days."

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The Marlins grounded into four double plays in Friday's loss to the Diamondbacks, with Casey McGehee and Jarrod Saltalamacchia bouncing into two each.

McGehee has grounded into 25 double plays, which not only leads the majors, but represents a new Marlins record. Greg Colbrunn, with 22 double plays in 1996, held the old mark. The major league record of grounding into double plays is held by Jim Rice, a Hall of Famer who grounded into 36 of them in 1984.

McGehee is also hitting .333 with runners in scoring position -- the fifth best figure in the N.L. -- so it's not as though he's been a rally-killer.

"It's happened a few more times than it probably should," McGehee said of his double play disease. "But I guess that's the price you pay for trying to stay in the middle of the field sometimes. It's one of those things that the knee-jerk reaction is to try to come out of your approach and try to do something different. Maybe I'll have to think about it and talk to (hitting coach Frank Menechino), and maybe there's times that the situation dictates I do that a little bit. But I think, for the most part, that's been a big part of my success, is trying to stay in the middle of the field. You can't have it both ways all the time."

While McGehee has delivered for the Marlins with runners in scoring position, Saltalamacchia has not. His .165 average with RISP ranks 98th of the 100 N.L. players who have had at least 75 plate appearances in those situations. Only Washington's Danny Espinosa (.130) and San Diego's Yasmani Grandal (.123) rank lower.

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Kind of an odd game Friday when the Marlins and Diamondbacks combined for five runs in the first inning, and then didn't score again as Arizona held on for a 3-2 win.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the most runs scored in a Marlins game in which all the runs were scored in the first inning. The previous high was four, when the Marlins scored all four runs in a 4-0 victory over the Dodgers on July 13, 1995.

August 14, 2014

Dan Jennings reflects, Ozuna's slump, Furcal to undergo surgery

It's been a tough month for Marcell Ozuna, who has gone 4 for 39 while striking out 15 times in August. Marlins hitting coach Frank Menechino said he thinks he knows the reason why Ozuna has been struggling: "Ozuna got caught up in a little bit of swinging too hard. He was trying to kill the ball. He was working out in front of the plate, and his contact point changed. So now he's working on trying to let the ball get deeper, and the last two days it's been better."

Since the All-Star break, Ozuna is hitting just .170 and has struck out 34 times in 88 at bats.

"The good part about it is he's not really chasing that many bad pitches," Menechino said. "We went through this earlier in the year, and he came out of it on fire."

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It's official. Rafael Furcal is done for the season. Marlins manager Mike Redmond said Furcal will undergo hamstring surgery next week to remove scar tissue.

Furcal, who the Marlins signed to a $3.5 million deal thinking he would be their everyday second baseman, has spent pretty much the entire season on the disabled list with leg injuries. He appeared in only nine games and hit .171.

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Reliever Dan Jennings was upbeat while speaking at length today for the first time since his frightening ordeal of being struck in the head with a line drive in Pittsburgh. Currently on the 7-day concussion list, he is progressing quickly and hopes to be back on a big-league mound within a week or so.

On how he feels at present:

Jennings: "I feel pretty normal which, all things considered, is a shock, a surprise and a relief. I feel like I can function and do everything that I was able to do before. I think as far as a timetable, we're still a little ways out. I still have to do some bullpens and make sure that doesn't effect my head and whatnot."

Have you gone back to look at the tape of the play?

Jennings: "Yeah, I have. Other people say it makes them queasy and they have a hard time watching it. It doesn't really effect me. It's not too hard to watch the video, considering I lived through it. It's interesting. In seeing the video, I didn't realize I got my glove up."

Do you remember getting up almost immediately after being hit?

Jennings: "I do. I guess the main reason I got up was because it was so surreal that I tried to tell myself it didn't happen. I was sitting there trying to convince myself it didn't hit me in the head. Or maybe it just barely grazed me. And then, after a few seconds of trying to talk myself through it, I think I realized it I wasn't OK and I needed to take it easy for a second."

When did you look at the video the first time?

Jennings: "That night in the hospital. I kind of wanted to see it. I remember being carted out and the only thing I could see in my peripheral was the scoreboard, and I saw two outs and I said, "We got that guy." I saw two outs and thought, 'You got to be kidding me? That's awesome.' So I kind of wanted to see what happened after it hit me. I didn't realize it bounced 40 feet in the air and he (Adeiny Hechavarria) caught it."

Do you have any concern at all about going back on the mound again?

Jennings: "If anything, it encouraged me to do some research on the situations that have happened. I read some statistic, that it's about one in every three million pitches get hit back at the pitcher, or his head. People have asked me if I'm going to wear the (protective) hat, and I just don't think I'm going to because i just don't think they're close enough with it yet."

To get back on the mound and face a hitter, what's that going to be like for you?

Jennings: "I have no idea. When I was in the hospital, I really started questioning what I'm doing here. Because you go through something like that that's life-altering potentially, and I've got a wife and a daughter. Is it worth it to play baseball and risk my life? Those thoughts kind of got pushed in the back of my head after that, and I started telling myself, 'This is what I do. I do it because it's what I love to do, and I'm good at it.' For me to stop playing because something may or may not happen, I just don't think it's worth it in the long run."

Will it be an important first step to get back on the mound?

Jennings: "Yeah. I haven't had any flashbacks or anything like that. Even just playing catch and seeing a ball come at me, it's a little frightening. I wouldn't be surprised if I get back on the mound and the first fastball, if I throw a bad pitch, to get my glove up on guard just to get over that. But I think if I had to guess, I think I'd be OK to get back on the mound, because it's so routine."

How touched were you by the support you received that night?

Jennings: "I've always viewed Twitter as a negative because it's an easy way for a lot of fans out there to get ahold of you, and everybody's a tough guy on Twitter. They can say whatever they want, and it's really shocking some of the stuff people say. When you give up a single run or blow a game, it's real, real easy for people to have access to you. But this is really the first time I've seen what an incredible outlet it can be in a positive manner. I really received nothing but praise and well thoughts and wishes and prayers. It was incredible to see, not only Marlins fans, but people who said 'I'm a Pirates fan. Or even I'm a Dodgers fan.' It just shows you there are lots of people out there who are just fans of the game."

On being hit by a line drive:

Jennings: "It's just one of those things you can't predict, you can't prepare for. There's nothing you can do about it. I'm incredibly, incredibly fortunate it was just a concussion, and I can move forward. I'm still able to play this year. The first thought that goes through your head is, my year's over. I can't come back from this this year. It's going to be great that I'll be able to get back on the mound and put it behind me before the offseason starts, because I can't imagine dwelling over this for five or six months."

(Fallen) stars are aligning for Miami Marlins

If ever the Marlins were going to make a move and jump into the playoff picture, now would seem to be the time. Their next nine games are against three of the lousiest four teams in the majors in terms of their won-loss records, and all three are in weakened states due to injuries to their biggest stars.

Up first, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The D-Backs arrive for a four-game series that begins tonight at Marlins Park. Though they took two of three from the Marlins last month, that was when Arizona had All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who went 4 for 10 with four walks in that series. Goldschmidt has since had his hand broken and is out for the season, joining eight other D-Backs on the disabled list.

The Texas Rangers will arrive next for a mini two-game set. Already battered by injuries, the Rangers announced pitching ace Yu Darvish was going on the 15-day disabled list. Before he got hurt, Darvish was lined up to pitch the second of the two games against the Marlins. Now it appears that task will fall to Robbie Ross.

After Texas, it's off to Denver, where the Marlins will face the Rockies for a three-game series. The Rockies, who are already playing without Carlos Gonzalez, announced yesterday that MVP candidate Troy Tulowitzki is done for the season due to a hip injury requiring surgery.

The Marlins begin the day two games below .500 (59-61), seven games behind the division-leading Nationals and 4 1/2 games back in the N.L. wild card race.

In your opinion, how must the Marlins fare over the coming nine games before you'd label them as "contenders?" 6-3? 7-2? 9-0? Or is it already too late?

August 13, 2014

Brad Penny looking forward to Miami homecoming

It’s been so long since Brad Penny made a home start for the Marlins that his memory of it is scant.

“I don’t even remember it, it’s been that long,” Penny said.

For the record, when Penny takes the mound Thursday at Marlins Park, it will be his first home start for them since July 28, 2004 -- two days before he was traded to the Dodgers.

That outing against the Phillies did not result in a decision.

But if he couples Saturday’s comeback victory in Cincinnati with another Thursday against the Diamondbacks, he’ll move ahead of A.J. Burnett and into fourth on the team’s all-time wins list with 50.

“It’s been a long time since I pitched in Miami and I’ve got a lot of memories pitching in Miami,” Penny said.

Penny likes what he’s seen of the new ballpark so far.

“It looks like it plays as big (as Sun Life Stadium),” he said. “It’s definitely a pitcher’s park.”
Penny, 36, who recorded his first major league win in three years Saturday against the Reds, said he doesn’t know how much longer his career will last even though he feels he’s “got a lot left.”

“It doesn’t get any easier, and that’s what I like about it,” Penny said. “I’m getting older, so it’s going to get harder and harder every year for me. I’m going to go out there and show I can compete, and when I feel like I can’t, I’m done.”
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Carter Capps is throwing in Jupiter and could be available to the Marlins bullpen in September if he continues to progress.

“He’s throwing bullpens and he’s been feeling great,” said manager Mike Redmond of Capps, who has been on the disabled list since late May with a right elbow sprain. “I think that’s (September) when we’re kind of anticipating him being ready to go. It might be a little bit before.”

Capps, whom the Marlins acquired from Seattle in their offseason trade with the Mariners for Logan Morrison, appeared in only nine games for the Marlins before going on the DL.

-- Redmond said left-handed reliever Dan Jennings, who is on the 7-day concussion list after being struck in the head with a line drive in Pitttsburgh, has been symptom-free for the past two days and has resumed throwing. His return date is uncertain.
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August 12, 2014

Redmond: "For sure [Stanton] should be right up there" in MVP discussion

Marlins skipper Mike Redmond tuned into a sports show Tuesday morning and heard a couple of analysts discussing if Giancarlo Stanton should be mentioned in the National League's MVP race.

"I was like, 'What?' Just mention him?," Redmond said. "I think what he's done is made a statement. For sure, he should be right up there."

Thanks to a power surge at the plate since July 30 (.286, 8 HRs, 11 RBI), Stanton has retaken the league lead in home runs (31) and RBI (82) and entered the day Tuesday with an NL-best 5.8 wins above replacement rating. Stanton's OPS of .961 ranks second only to the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki (1.035).

Stanton said his recent 12-game run is the best he's felt at the plate since the third or fourth week of the season. In Monday's game, Stanton homered twice and made a diving catch in right field that was ranked the top play of the day on ESPN's SportsCenter. His 470-foot solo home run, which landed near the Budweiser Bar area in left field and won fans free beer, was ranked third on the show's Top 10.

Asked if his stellar day Monday should make the MVP talk louder, Stanton said: "You understand what's ahead of you and what the possibilities are. But I'm not typing MVP on Google every night. I've got other things to worry about."

According to BaseballProjection.com, which measures defensive metrics, Stanton ranks second only to the Braves' Jason Heyward among all right fielders in total zone, total fielding runs above average with a plus-16 rating. Last season, Stanton finished 14th among right fielders with a plus-5 rating.

"That’s a big key," Stanton said. "That’s what will set me away from the rest as a complete player. You don’t want to be thought of as a one sided player. You’ve got to be well rounded and contributing on all aspects."

CISHEK BATTLING

Even though he hasn't blown a save since July 9 and is 10 for 10 on his last 10 save opportunities, Marlins closer Steve Cishek admits things "have been to close for comfort" lately.

Cishek has given up runs four times in his last seven appearances and has an ERA of 7.71 over the stretch. So what's wrong? He's not really sure.

"I'm going out there with the same mindset everyday and for some reason I'm in a rut again. I go through these lulls a couple times a year," Cishek said. "The location has been bad and right now the ball is just not coming out my hand like -- even though the velocity is there -- it's just not coming out the same. I just have to find a way to locate my pitches better down in the zone. I'm not going out there fearful or anything. For whatever reason it's just not happening right now."

> Redmond said it was good for the team to see reliever Dan Jennings, who visited the clubhouse Monday for the first time since being struck by a line drive in the head last week in Pittsburgh.

"He seems to be doing well," Redmond said. "He still obviously got some symptoms of a concussion. We're going to make sure he's 100 percent symptom-free before he begins any baseball activities.

"But it was great to see him in there sitting having a sandwich and hanging out. That's such a relief. That was a very scary situation. [Pitching coach] Chuck [Hernandez] and I were just talking how much we'd love to have him this series with all the lefties [the Cardinals] have on their team. To see that ball hit him where it did and for him to be fine is just a huge relief."