February 28, 2015

Giancarlo Stanton hit by Henderson Alvarez pitch, shrugs it off

JUPITER -- The Marlins didn't have to wait long to see how Giancarlo Stanton would react to an inside pitch. Stanton was plunked by a Henderson Alvarez during a simulation game on Saturday, with the ball clipping the slugger's left hip.

Stanton, whose season ended last September when he was struck in the face by a Mike Fiers pitch, wasn't injured this time. But he did gesture toward the Marlins pitcher and jokingly cursed in Spanish.

Alvarez's next pitch was came inside, after which Stanton walked out of the batter's box and headed to the dugout. Later, Stanton and Alvarez could be seen shaking hands in the dugout.

Stanton, for the first time, was wearing his new, custom-made helmet, which features a face guard that protects the left side of his face.

Alvarez admitted that he was a "little bit nervous" on Thursday when he pitched to Stanton during "live batting practice."

Stanton had four plate appearances during the sim game. In one of them, he drove the ball to the warning track in right center, where it was caught by Marcell Ozuna.

February 27, 2015

Juan Pierre, catalyst of '03 Marlins, officially retires

JUPITER -- Juan Pierre texted me this afternoon to say that he was officially retiring. Given that Pierre didn't play at all in 2014, the news should come as no shock to anyone. But Pierre was probably holding out hope -- as he did at the same time last year -- that he could hook on with some team in a reserve role, and that didn't happen.

The final numbers show that Pierre enjoyed an excellent 14-year major league career in which he amassed 2,217 hits (three more than Joe DiMaggio), 614 stolen bases (18th on the all-time list) and finished with an average of .295. He was an integral piece of the 2003 Marlins team that won the World Series and was voted the MVP of the Marlins for that season by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The trade in which the Marlins obtained Pierre just before the 2003 season ranks as one of the most significant ever made by the franchise.

PierreDuring an era in which steroids-infused power was the rage, Pierre was an old-school throwback, a slap hitter with a dirt-stained uniform who survived on singles and the stolen base. With his bat, he was an expert sharpshooter, aiming for openings on the field, not the outfield walls in the distance. Pierre totaled just 18 home runs during his career, or two fewer than Sammy Sosa hit in the month of June, 1998. Of his more than 2,000 hits, 83 percent were singles.

He always wanted to be on the field, bristled at the mere suggestion of taking a day off, and did not miss a game -- playing in all 162 each year -- during his three full seasons with the Marlins from 2003-05. In 2004, he was the only player in the majors -- and only the third since 1971 -- to play in every inning of every game for his team.

After the Marlins wrapped up the National League's wild-card playoff spot in 2003 with a win over the Mets and spent the evening celebrating with champagne and beer, manager Jack McKeon gave all of his regulars the game off the next day. All except two: Miguel Cabrera, who was then a young rookie and had no standing, and Pierre, who demanded to play.

But Pierre's influence, which was considerable, went far beyond the raw numbers and his performance on the field. His work ethic was second to none, as he spent countless hours before every game working every angle to make himself better. He earned every dime of his paycheck. When he showed up at the ballpark, he came to work. I never once saw him collapse in the soft seating of the clubhouse furniture to watch TV, or sit at a table to play cards -- traditional time-killers during downtimes of the seemingly endless baseball season.

If the Marlins were out of town, you would find him bouncing baseballs off the wall to get a feel for the carom. Or rolling balls along the first and third base lines before batting practice to look for any tell-tale tilt that might effect his bunting. Or taking fragile rookie Dontrelle Willis under his wing and, with a left-handed catcher's mitt he bought, playing catch with the young hurler before pre-game stretch. Pierre dirt

As a teammate, I can't recall another Marlin who was as revered as Pierre was inside the clubhouse. I never heard a negative word spoken about Pierre during his four seasons with the team, including his swan song season in 2013 when he spent most of the second half on the bench, gracefully accepting a reduced role without any hint of bitterness. He was the consummate pro and a role model.

Here's what former Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest had to say when I reached him to get his thoughts on Pierre:

"Probably him, more than anybody else, transformed that team," Beinfest said of the '03 Marlins.

On the Nov. 16, 2002, trade with the Colorado Rockies in which the Marlins obtained Pierre and Mike Hampton (who ended up going to Atlanta) in exchange for Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson, Pablo Ozuna and Vic Darensbourg: Pierre2

"A big part of it at the time was marrying him with Luis (Castillo) at the top of the lineup and having that speed component," Beinfest said. "That was a huge threat with those guys. They were disruptive. What we didn't know at the time was the type of guy we were getting, with the work ethic and attitude he brought to the ballpark. He fit like a perfect piece on that team.

Beinfest said it was probably "the most important" trade he made during his tenure with the Marlins.

"You talk about your favorite players and he automatically pops in your mind, because who doesn't like Juan Pierre?" Beinfest said. "Even that last year in '13, he was great. He had an opportunity to go elsewhere late that season and he wanted to stay. Part of that was family, and part of that was J.P. just being loyal, who he was."

What others are saying:

Curt Schilling @gehrig38

@JPBeastMode @MLB DESPISED facing you, couldn't make you swing and miss. Congrats on a wonderful career and on being a good man

Dee Gordon @FlashGJr

Congrats on your retirement @JPBeastMode glad I can wear your number with the #Fish I hope I can continue your legacy!

Ozzie Guillen FND @OzzieGuillen

@JPBeastMode congrats buddy was a honor to be u coach u manager, but even better iam u friend all my best to u and u family true pro

Dan Jennings @LtDanJennings

Sad to see a true pro like @JPBeastMode retiring, learned a lot about the game and especially about being a Christian from him

Christian Yelich @ChristianYelich

Congrats @JPBeastMode on one hell of a career! Thank you for teaching me how to work and how to be a pro. Forever grateful

 perry hill @PHill_bone

@JPBeastMode thanks for all the memories and thrills you gave all of us! Great teammate - tireless worker The game will miss you! #stopit

Troy Renck @TroyRenck

@JPBeastMode was hardest working player ever covered. They once locked him out of spring training so would take day off. Even better person

And finally from J.P. himself:

Juan Pierre @JPBeastMode

Wow I am blown away from all the tweets and the love I'm getting I can honestly say I left it all on the field no regrets #hustle#grit

 

 

Stanton, Ichiro to play in UM exhibition game

JUPITER -- Giancarlo Stanton and Ichiro Suzuki -- along with all the Marlins regulars -- will start and receive one at bat in Tuesday's exhibition game against the University of Miami. That figures to be a major thrill for whichever pitcher the Hurricanes send out to face the Marlins in the spring game at Roger Dean Stadium.

"The plan for the Miami game is we'll probably run our regular lineup out there for one at bat each," Redmond said.

In delivering the news, manager Mike Redmond said Stanton would DH while Suzuki would start in right field. Brad Hand will get the start for the Marlins in the second of two exhibitions against South Florida college teams. The Marlins face Florida International University on Monday, also at Roger Dean Stadium (1:05 p.m. starts for both contests).

Redmond said he wasn't yet sure who would pitch or play in the FIU game Monday, "but probably no regulars for that."

In addition to Hand, Redmond said other pitchers taking the mound in Tuesday's game against UM will be Vin Mazzaro, Justin Nicolino, Pat Misch, Kendry Flores, Brian Ellington, Ryan Chafee, Pat Urckfitz and Ryan Reid.

________________

Former Marlins catcher Charles Johnson will be spending time at camp this spring to impart his wisdom and provide advice to younger players.

"C.J.'s in the house," Redmond said. "I've talked to him over the last couple of years, trying to get him back up here in uniform, hanging out with the guys. It's good to have him back. Pretty cool. He and I came in that very first year with the Marlins, the first spring together, and played together in the minor leagues. One of the things I always talked about when I got this job, was incorporating guys that played with me or been a part of this organization for a long time. It's just another source for guys to get information from."

________________

The Marlins still have not announced the day when Jose Fernandez throws off the mound for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery. But Redmond said it should be "within the next few days. It's coming."

________________

 

February 26, 2015

Check Out Stanton's Strange New Helmet

JUPITER -- You've seen the body paint. Now check out Giancarlo Stanton's new-fangled helmet.

When the slugger steps into a batting cage later today to face live pitching for the first time since he was struck down by a Mike Fiers pitch in September, he'll be wearing this custom-made helmet and face guard to prevent a repeat occurrence:

Stanton_Guard_02

 

The Rawlings helmet was re-configured for Stanton with a face guard by Schutt Sports, which is better known for making football helmets that are used throughout the NFL and college.

Unlike some other helmet extensions, which are solid in nature, Stanton is going with a carbon steel frame that can withstand 100-mph pitches.

Stanton flew up to the company's Litchfield, Ill., facility Monday on owner Jeffrey Loria's private jet to see the helmet for the first time and put it on for size.

"We were so impressed with him when he came up earlier this week," said Glenn Beckmann, director of marketing and communications for Schutt. "He was genuinely interested in working this whole batter's guard out."

Stanton wanted something that would not only protect the side of his face, but a helmet that would allow him open sight lines and freedom of movement.

"He gave us the final instructions on what he wanted, and we had a working prototype to go this morning," Beckmann said Wednesday. "He was intensely engaged in every step of the development process."

The one-of-a-kind helmet and guard comes with an approximate price tag of about $500 to $1,000 -- small change for a slugger who will be making $325 million over the coming 13 years.

Beckmann said Stanton paid close attention to the details, and modeled the helmet to make sure it fit his needs. When the company fired fastballs at the guard sans the slugger to prove to Stanton that it did the job, the slugger's "face was pressed to the glass."

"He would stand there and mimic his batting stance and look to see if his site-line was obstructed at all," Beckmann said. "He held a baseball up to the gaps (in the guard) to make sure the ball would not come through."

For one final touch, Stanton had the company incorporate his initial -- "G" -- into the guard. (Look closely and you'll notice the initial for yourself.)

"We basically took Giancarlo's idea and we just translated it into wire," Beckmann said. "Then we just started creating different shapes and configurations. We got the look and then he decided he wanted to add a little style to it, and he put his G on the front of it, and we’re like 'That’s rocking.'"

Stanton_03

 

 

February 25, 2015

February 24, 2015

Redmond: "Expectations are good. That's what we want"

JUPITER -- It was a busy first day of full squad workouts here on the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium where the Marlins had the spotlight shining bright on them.

Giancarlo Stanton, the $325 million man, and Ichiro Suzuki, one of three professional hitters with 4,000 career hits, both held press conferences in front of dozens of reporters before the team met for an hour inside the clubhouse and hit the practice field. 

Excitement? Buzz? There's plenty of that -- and Japanese reporters -- around for the Marlins these days.

"Without a doubt it's a different feel, different atmosphere," manager Mike Redmond said shortly after emerging from that team meeting. "I think we all feel that. It's been a definite work in progress in two years. But we're heading in the right direction. There's a lot of excitement around this team.

"Expectations are good. That's what we want. We're here to win ballgames. As far as the players, the important thing is for these guys to continue to go out there and have fun, do their jobs. These guys are great players. But nobody should feel they've got to do more than they're capable of doing. There's no pressure for one guy to go out there and carry the load. We're much deeper. Those are some of the things we talked about. We got a lot of character on this team. We got guys that grind it out. We've got leaders. It's a fun group. These guys are fun to be around every day."

One particular guy Redmond doesn't want feeling pressured is Stanton, who said Tuesday he has no qualms about getting back in the batter's box after having his 2014 season ended by a fastball to his face. You can read my story on Stanton's comments from Tuesday here.

Redmond said he's not worried about Stanton feeling weird about being in the batter's box "at all."

"He's a competitor number one," Redmond said. "Will there maybe be a little bit of apprehension the first time he gets in there? Of course. That's human nature. I don't care if you're the toughest man on earth you're going to be a little bit nervous when you get in there. When he gets in there -- after a few times -- he'll be fine.

"Will there be teams that test him? Probably. But we'll cross that bridge when we get there."

Ichiro, signed to be the Marlins' fourth outfielder at age 41, said Tuesday through an interpreter he doesn't want to be thought of as the old guy in camp. He said he's here to help the Marlins win -- whether that's providing leadership or adding to his career hit total.

""A lot of guys here are 23, 25, young guys," he said. "I obviously don't know what my role is right now. I'll go through camp and find that out. Hopefully it wont look like I'm using a bat as a cane.

"[Getting 3,000 MLB hits] that is a pretty big goal and that is a goal of mine. But that is not the reason I play the game of baseball. Obviously I have other goals and motivations that have kept me here wanting to play. I don't think you can play the game if that's your only goal and I have other goals I want to accomplish."

So what drew Ichiro to the Marlins?

"What I wanted most was just the warm feelings the Marlins gave me," he said. "Everybody knows the people who came to Japan to the press conference and so it wouldn't be tough on me they had the physical done in Japan. They are accommodating for me in the fact that here at spring training they'll have a facility for me to have my [pilates] machines here and in Miami also the same thing to accommodate the things that are very important to me as a player. There was nothing that came my way I didn't like or would say no to. That's a big reason I'm here."

> Redmond reiterated Tuesday he plans to "mix and match" with the lineup during spring training a little bit. "Maybe hit Giancarlo fourth, try [Martin] Prado two, see where Yeli fits in the three-hole," he said. "But definitely our lineup is stronger and deeper and that's going to benefit everyone."

February 23, 2015

Ichiro arrives at Marlins camp, signs autographs as Japanese media converges

The Ichiro effect is in effect for the Marlins.

Monday, the 41-year-old outfielder and 10-time All-Star arrived in Jupiter for duty and a throng of more than two dozen Japanese reporters were there to watch his every move. Ichiro stretched, ran, played catch with his interpreter on a backfield and then took batting practice in the cages.

When he was done, he went and signed autographs for fans who lined up and chanted his name. Ichiro, the first Japanese player in Marlins history, will address the media on Tuesday when position players officially report.

Team president David Samson said Saturday the Marlins will have at least 90 games broadcasted in Japan this season, up from about the two they average per season. Signed to a one-year $2 million deal, Suzuki is one of just three players with over 4,000 professional hits. He had 1,278 hits in Japan and has 2,844 hits in the majors.

Manager Mike Redmond said he'll find ways to get Ichiro plenty of at-bats this spring. 

Asked if he has any special memories of Ichiro from when he played against him, Redmond said Monday, "Well, he ran down a lot of my balls that would have been hits."

"We're definitely going to have to talk about that," Redmond said.

Redmond said he's never had a chance to speak to Ichiro face-to-face and is looking forward to it Tuesday. "This guy is a professional," he said. "I know he's a hardworker and I think he's going to really enjoy playing with our young players. I'm sure they'll learn a lot from him as well."

New Marlins pitcher Mat Latos gets ripped by former team

New Marlins pitcher Mat Latos told us he's a flat out honest guy. He might have been a little too honest this time.

Mat LatosIn a Q&A with Fox Sports senior writer Ken Rosenthal Sunday, Latos made some comments about his former team, the Cincinnati Reds, that didn't go over too well.

Like he told us Marlins scribes Friday, Latos told Rosenthal he rushed back from knee surgery last year and he regretted it. The only difference this time was Latos told Rosenthal he rushed back in part because the Reds pushed him to.

"I was told that I needed to start doing activities at a minimum of 10 days after surgery," Latos told Rosenthal. "They had me throwing on the fifth day after surgery. Then they had me running the seventh day after surgery. Then I was already lifting 10 days after surgery."

So it wasn’t entirely your decision, Rosenthal asked.

"No," Latos said. "They asked me how I felt. I felt great. I did. Because I didn’t have something jagged and sharp in my knee as I was walking and running on it.

"It’s kind of obvious when you’re looking at it and the [physical therapist] is looking at it, and this knee looks like a water balloon and this knee looks like a regular knee, don’t you think you would say, "Hey, let’s get some of that swelling down before we do anything?” But there’s nothing I can do about it. I went along with it because I wanted to be out there. I figured they knew what they were talking about."

Latos later told Rosenthal the focus in the Reds' clubhouse "went to [expletive]" after Scott Rolen and Bronson Arroyo were no longer with the team. Cincinnati finished 76-86 last season without Arroyo after making the playoffs in 2013 without Rolen.

Monday, Latos' former teammates fired back. Reds manager Bryan Price told Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Fay the comments by Latos were "a bunch of tabloid B.S. that’s unnecessary.”

Pitcher Homer Bailey told Fay of Latos: “If this was a court of law, the cross examination would go after the credibility of the witness.”

Bailey said the Reds never rushed back from his own knee injury, and Price said Latos never told him anything about his knee and coming back too soon. Latos by the way was quoted last June as being miffed he was being forced by the Reds to make an extra rehab start.

Latos told a Marlins reporter Monday he was taking a break from speaking to the media. 

February 22, 2015

Memory of season's final at bat still taunts Yelich

JUPITER -- Christian Yelich made the final out of the 2014 season for the Marlins. But it wasn't just any out, and he spent the entire offseason re-living it.

Nationals left fielder Steven Souza made a spectacular diving catch on his fly ball into the gap, preserving a no-hitter for Jordan Zimmermann. Yelich

How many times has Yelich seen the replay of that catch since then?

"Too many," Yelich said. "I'm gonna see it. It's gonna be there forever. I'll be way done playing and have a family, watching a show, and I'll still see it. My little brother was watching the top plays of the year, and it was No. 5 or something."

Yelich's wore a pained look of frustration when Souza made the catch, and Nationals fans made sure the Marlins outfielder saw the photo of that moment.

"The Nationals fans made sure that I saw that on Twitter," Yelich said of the photo. "They were making sure I saw it for like five days afterward."

Yelich has now played in two Closing Day games in his MLB career, and both were no-hitters. The first was thrown by teammate Henderson Alvarez to cap the 2013 season.

"I don't think you'll see one that dramatic again," Yelich said of Souza's game-saving catch. "That's the one you'd like to have. When it's to break up a no-hitter, you'd like to have those ones. You'd like to see those fall. He (Zimmermann) thought it was going to fall by his reaction. He (Souza) made a great play out there."