June 21, 2015

Marlins have decisions to make, but none involve major trades

CINCINNATI -- Though they sit 10 games under .500, the Marlins still have reasons for hope. They play in a weak division in which no team has caught fire. Jose Fernandez is expected to rejoin the rotation on July 2. And management still believes the lineup is much better than it has shown.

“The division is keeping us in it,” said Michael Hill, president of baseball operations. “But the bottom line is we have to win more games. We’ve got to get closer to .500 to really insert ourselves into the playoff picture. You can’t expect that the clubs above you will continue to tread water, keeping you in it.”

Despite their poor record, the Marlins found themselves only 6 1/2 games behind first-place Washington going into Sunday. That’s because the Nationals’ record is the worst of any division leader.

One day after rookie pitcher Justin Nicolino turned heads with a dazzling debut performance, Hill spoke of how the front office has some difficult decisions to make concerning the rotation.

The Marlins have -- or soon will -- far more starters than there are spots in the rotation. Fernandez is scheduled to make his next-to-last rehab start Monday at Single A Jupiter. Jarred Cosart was on the mound Sunday in what could be his final rehab start for Double A Jacksonville.

The Marlins presently have six starters on their roster.

“We’ve always asked for tough decisions and we knew, as guys were getting healthy, we were going to have tough decisions,” Hill said.

But Hill firmly stated that the front office has no intention of trading away “any of our major rotation pieces” in order to alleviate the looming logjam.

“We are fortunate we have some players who are flexible, that we can move to the bullpen,” Hill said. “We have some young players who may have to go back (to the minors).”

Both Tom Koehler and David Phelps could go to the bullpen, for example.

Hill also said that when Fernandez returns, the Marlins could go with a six-man rotation, at least initially.

“It might be something early with Jose that you might look at doing,” Hill said. “It could happen because you might just re-insert Jose into the rotation. But post-All-Star break, it’ll be a five-man rotation.”

The biggest disappointment so far, Hill said, hasn’t been the pitching. It’s been the hitting.

“We have to be a more consistent offense and score runs,” Hill said. “We thought we would have hit our stride by now. You’ve got a guy (Giancarlo Stanton) leading the league in home runs and RBI. And you’ve got a guy (Dee Gordon) close to leading the league in hitting and stolen bases. We’ve shown our youth.”

Hill fended off any suggestion that the Marlins might look to trade veterans such as Martin Prado and Michael Morse before the July 31 trading deadline. Both players are under contract through 2016.

“Any pieces that are under control aren’t even considerations to do anything,” Hill said. “We aren’t building this team for 2015. We’re building this for ’15 and ’16 and ’17. We’re trying to build a perennial contender.”

June 20, 2015

Justin Nicolino to make MLB debut tonight as Tom Koehler dealing with neck/back pain

CINCINNATI -- One of the turning points in the 2003 season for the Marlins came at Great American Ball Park when Tommy Phelps made an emergency start in place of Brad Penny, who was scratched due to an illness. Phelps won that night, and the Marlins continued their march to the World Series.

Could history repeat itself?

Tom Koehler -- who was scheduled to start tonight -- was scratched due to neck and back pain. And the Marlins have called up left-hander Justin Nicolino Triple A New Orleans to take the mound in his place.

"Just locked up on me a little bit and thought we'd play it safe and not risk going out there and then having them bring somebody in," Koehler said. "It's kind of just muscle spasms. I thought it was best to say something, so I did. They said I could wake up tomorrow and feel perfectly fine."

Koehler said he expects to miss no more than tonight's start and jump back into the rotation.

"Very short term, like a day or two," Koehler said of the anticipated recovery time frame.

Nicolino ranks as the No. 3 prospect in the Marlins' organization (behind pitchers Tyler Kolek and Jose Urena) and was acquired in the big 2012 trade with Toronto. What's interesting is that Nicolino will be facing the Reds' Anthony DeSclafani, who was also obtained in that blockbuster deal before being traded to the Reds over the winter for Mat Latos.

Nicolino, 23, doesn't have overpowering stuff, relying instead on pinpoint control. This season, he has gone 4-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 13 starts for New Orleans, striking out 45 while walking 21 in 78 1/3 innings.

A second-round pick for Toronto in 2010, Nicolino is from Orlando and has posted strong numbers in the minors, where he has gone 42-17 with a 2.67 ERA in 111 games (102 starts). He has averaged 6.5 strikeouts and 1.6 walks per nine innings.

To make room for Nicolino, catcher Jhonatan Solano was designated for assignment.

At this point, the extent of Koehler's injury is uncertain. He isn't being placed on the disabled list, at least not as of yet. But it's yet one more injury to a member of the Marlins' starting rotation. Henderson Alvarez, Latos and Jarred Cosart have already spent time on the disabled list. Of the original five-man rotation, only Dan Haren hasn't missed a start due to injury.

 

June 18, 2015

Prado placed on DL; Solano recalled with Realmuto (back) ailing

NEW YORK -- As expected, the Marlins announced third baseman Martin Prado (right shoulder sprain) has been placed on the disabled list.

With rookie catcher J.T. Realmuto ailing with a stiff back, the team recalled Jhonatan Solano to be the backup catcher until Realmuto is either placed on the disabled list himself or gets healthy.

The team was expected to call up Jordany Valdespin before the injury to Realmuto.

Prado expected to go on the DL; has rookie Jose Urena done enough to stay in rotation?

NEW YORK -- The Marlins haven't announced anything yet, but it looks like third baseman Martin Prado will be heading to the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

Jordany Valdespin is expected to get the call-up from Triple A New Orleans to replace Prado, who was hitting .272 with four homers and 24 RBI before he was hurt in Sunday's loss to the Rockies.

Valdespin is hitting .290 with 12 RBI and six stolen bases in 46 games with the Zephyrs. Last season, in 52 games with the Marlins, Valdespin hit .214 with three homers and 10 RBI.

MARLINS HAVE DECISION TO MAKE

Jose Urena was hardly on his game Wednesday night in the Bronx.

He was missing the strike zone badly (only 50 of his 96 pitches for strikes) and yet still managed to go six innings and give up only a pair of runs to a Yankee lineup ranked seventh in baseball in scoring. Over his last four starts, the 23-year old rookie has gone six-plus innings each time, giving up three runs or less each time and posting an ERA of 2.55. Yet, he's just 1-3 with a 4.18 ERA when you count his first career start (5 ER in 4 2/3 innings at Pittsburgh May 26) and two previous relief appearances in April (3 ER in 3 innings).

So will Urena stay in the Marlins rotation moving forward? That's a question manager Dan Jennings and his staff apparently were hoping to gain some clarity on Wednesday.

With Jarred Cosart on the mend and Jose Fernandez targeting a return on July 2, the Marlins have some decisions to make with their rotation. Do they ship Urena back to the minors for more seasoning? Do they move Tom Koehler and/or David Phelps out and strengthen the bullpen? Or, does Cosart go to the bullpen, and only one of the current starters on the bubble move to the pen when Fernandez returns?

First, it appears, the Marlins need to decide what they're going to do with Cosart, who has been on the disabled list with vertigo since May 14 and has now made two starts for Triple A New Orleans, but failed to go at least six innings in either one.

Cosart, who was 1-3 with a 4.08 ERA in seven starts for the Marlins this season before going on the disabled list, simply hasn't looked right since the start of the season. And the Marlins simply seem unsure if Cosart might benefit from some more work in the minors. When asked before Wednesday's game what the Marlins plans were for Cosart moving forward, Jennings responded: "To be determined."

"Competition is a great thing," Jennings said before Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Yankees. "Urena has pitched very well three outings in a row. I love the competition. Jose is Jose and he's a true No. 1. But, the competition is good and they pass the baton to the next guy. We've had eight games in a row where our starters have gone six-plus innings. And that saves the bullpen. It gives us an opportunity, keeps us in games and gives us a chance to win and that's all you can ask of any starting pitcher."

Since getting tagged for a career-high nine runs in a loss to the Rockies on June 6, Phelps (4-3, 3.96 ERA) has been lights out over his last two starts. He's pitched 15 innings of two-run ball with only three walks and 11 strikeouts. Koehler (5-4, 3.76 ERA) has gone six-plus innings in five of his last six starts and allowed one earned run or less in four of them.

WILL ICHIRO BE BACK?

Jennings said Wednesday the Marlins have had internal discussions about bringing back 41-year-old veteran Ichiro Suzuki next season.

Ichiro had one of the Marlins' three hits Wednesday and is now at 2,885 career hits in the majors. One of the reasons Ichiro could be back -- aside from the fact the Marlins would love to see him reach the 3,000 hit club in their uniform -- is how much he's enjoying his time with the Marlins' young roster.

"For me, I'm just enjoying my time here," he said. "My teammates are great and I'm having such a great time with them. Even if that number was getting close, what's really important for me is that I'm enjoying myself with my teammates. I think when that number comes closer, and let's say I'm one away and I'm around guys that I really don't want to be around, or that I'm not having fun with, I don't think I would enjoy it as much as I would with the group of guys that we have here."

Suzuki has 41 hits so far this season and projects to end up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 to 100 if he continues at the same pace. If that turns out to be the case, he would be within 100 hits of 3,000 at season's end.

Consider this: only 23 players in the history of major league baseball have totaled as many as 114 hits after the age of 41. Many of the names are familiar: Pete Rose, Stan Musial, Honus Wagner and Hank Aaron, are primary examples.

"Two things with Ichi," Jennings said. "Number 1 he's probably the most prepared player I've ever been around. Never seen a guy this diligent of a worker every day. I think it's been great for our young players to see how a true pro goes about his business.

"Number 2, when we signed him, he knew he was coming in to be the fourth outfielder. [Christian] Yelich had an injury early and Ichi got everyday time. Now, during this interleague play he's been able to start as a right fielder, center fielder or DH. Getting his bat in there and getting him some consistent work has been good. Your truly watching a special guy, a Hall of Famer. This is great for our young players to see this is how you do it the right way and to create great longevity in your career."

June 16, 2015

Carter Capps tops majors in whiff rate; Weather diverts Jose Fernandez back to Single A; Giancarlo Stanton drops to 4th in All-Star balloting

His fastball packs steam. But it's the development of his slider that has turned Carter Capps into a strikeout machine for the Marlins. Capps struck out all three Yankees batters he faced Monday and now has the highest whiff rate in the majors: 16.8 K's per 9 innings (25 total strikeouts in 15 innings pitched).

"The biggest thing is he's been driving the fastball downhill versus pitching up in the zone, and the slider has been an equalizer," said Marlins manager Dan Jennings. "And his sliders have been extremely good pitches. It's not just a show pitch. It's a true out pitch."

Said Capps: "I think mostly guys see the numbers (gun readings) on the board, and then also see that I don't have a ton of walks, so they're just sitting on a heater. If I can drop that slider in for a strike, it gives them something else to think about."

Capps' fastball average of 97.6 mph ranks third in the majors behind the Reds' Aroldis Chapman (99.5) and Pirates Arquimedes Caminero (97.8).

If Capps continues to whiff hitters at the same clip, he'll finish with the highest strikeout rate in Marlins history. The team record belongs to Chad Fox, who in 2004 averaged 14.34 strikeouts per 9 innings.

________________

Poor weather in Texas prompted the Marlins to cancel plans for Jose Fernandez to make Wednesday's rehab start for Triple A New Orleans in Round Rock. Instead, Fernandez will head up the Florida highway to pitch Wednesday for Single A Jupiter, which will be play at Brevard County.

The Texas storm also wiped out Tuesday's rehab start there for Jarred Cosart. Jennings said it's uncertain when and where Cosart will pitch next, and the team is trying to get him out of the Lone Star State before airports shut down there.

-- First baseman Michael Morse will begin his rehab assignment on Wednesday for Double A Jacksonville.

________________

Giancarlo Stanton dropped to fourth in fan voting among National League outfielders for the All-Star Game in the latest update. Stanton sits behind Bryce Harper, Matt Holliday and Nori Aoki.

"He belongs in that top three and he deserves to start in that All-Star Game in Cincinnati," Jennings said.

Dee Gordon continues to lead second basemen in the voting.

June 14, 2015

Next stop for Jose Fernandez: Triple A New Orleans

Jose Fernandez made the leap from Single A to the majors, bypassing the high minors altogether, when he arrived on the big-league scene in 2013 as a rookie. On Wednesday, Fernandez will receive his first-ever taste of Triple A when he makes his next rehab start for New Orleans.

Manager Dan Jennings confirmed Sunday that Fernandez's next stop on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery will be with the Zephyrs in Round Rock, Texas. Jennings said Fernandez is expected to throw anywhere from 75 to 80 pitches for the Zephyrs.

Fernandez was sensational on Friday when he pitched for Single A Jupiter.

"I think that was a mental hurdle for him to crawl over," Jennings said of Fernandez, who could rejoin the Marlins in either late June or early July.

Jennings said Jarred Cosart (vertigo) will make what "should" be his final rehab start on Tuesday, also for New Orleans.

_______________

First baseman Michael Morse took batting practice for the first time on Saturday since landing on the DL with a sprained finger and could begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday.

"It's coming around," Jennings said of Morse's injury. "I think now he's actually swinging the bat without the pain in his joint, and the swelling has gone down. His next step will be to go out and get some at bats (in the minors) from a timing standpoint."

________________

Jennings said the upcoming rotation would remain the same, with Tom Koehler going Monday against the Yankees and David Phelps facing his former team on Tuesday.

"The next change will be when Cosart comes back and we'll insert him and go from there," Jennings said.

_________________

 

June 13, 2015

CarGo to Josh Naylor: "Stop hitting the ball so hard"; 1st-round pick puts on a power show; Cishek returns

First-round draft pick Josh Naylor wowed everyone from owner Jeffrey Loria to Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez when he showed off his home run power during Saturday's batting practice at Marlins Park. The 17-year-old Naylor, who was the 12th overall pick in last week's amateur draft, launched five homers into the upper deck in right at Marlins Park during the session.

At one point, Gonzalez walked over to Naylor and told him jokingly to "stop hitting the ball so hard."

"I had a great time," said Naylor, who was invited to take part in batting practice with the Marlins. "My heart rate was going a little bit. I was a little nervous. I feel so special, and hopefully I'm in this park one day permanently."

That's what the Marlins are hoping, as well.

Naylor, a first baseman who is often compared to Prince Fielder due to his similar body size and build, can't sign until after he graduates from high school on June 25, three days after he turns 18. But the Marlins feel Naylor will climb through the minors more rapidly than most players due to his extensive seasoning in international competition.

"I hear that when we see this young man take batting practice we may want to insert him (in the lineup)," Marlins manager Dan Jennings said before Naylor took his swings. "Once he gets in that uniform, he blends right in with these guys. He may hurt some of them's feelings when they see him swing that bat a little bit."

_____________

While the closer's job no longer his, Steve Cishek was glad just to be back in a Marlins uniform after spending the previous 12 days in the minors trying to iron out the kinks that brought about his downfall earlier in the season.

"I want to get back on track and be able to be my old self," Cishek said Saturday after being recalled from Double A Jacksonville.

Cishek lost the closer's job to A.J. Ramos after blowing five save opportunities early on. He appeared in five games totaling six innings for Jacksonville. He didn't allow any runs, struck out four and walked none during the brief makeover.

"I think it was good for me, for sure," Cishek said of the demotion.

Jennings said he intended to use Cishek in a set-up role, though not necessarily in low-pressure situations.

"Right now, we'll use him as a bridge to get to A.J. in some capacity, between the sixth and the ninth (innings)," Jennings said. "We'll use him to get some of the last 12 outs of the game, and those 12 can be the toughest. There will be no mindset of low pressure. We'll put him in there when we feel it's the best fit for him and for us."

________________

After turning in a strong rehab outing on Friday for Single A Jupiter, Jose Fernandez's next step could come at Double A when he makes his next start on Wednesday.

"It'll either be Double A or Jupiter (again)," Jennings said. "(He) probably needs to go somewhere and get tested against a little higher level of hitters, although he went straight from A ball to the major leagues and did pretty well."

The Marlins expect Fernandez to make his first start for them in either late June or early July. On Friday, Fernandez delivered five scoreless innings for Jupiter in which he allowed only two hits and struck out four.

"Everything is trending now the right way for him to get back on that mound up here and help us," Jennings said. "It'll be a welcome addition when that occurs."

______________

June 12, 2015

Steve Cishek on his way back from minors; Jose Fernandez shines in 2nd rehab start

Steve Cishek is on his way back to Miami.

After Friday's 5-1 win over the Rockies, the Marlins made a series of moves including recalling their former closer from Double A Jacksonville. Cishek pitched five scoreless innings in four appearances for the Suns after being demoted June 1.

"From all the reports we have he went down and he worked on exactly what needed to be corrected," Jennings said. "This team needs Steve Cishek to do what he's capable of doing."

Pitchers Kendry Flores and Andre Rienzo were optioned to Triple A New Orleans after the game to make room for Cishek and Saturday starter Mat Latos, who is being activated from the disabled list.

FERNANDEZ SHINES

Jose Fernandez made his second rehab start in Jupiter Friday night and used 65 pitches to get through five scoreless innings. Fernandez gave up only two hits and a walk and struckout four, hitting 94 to 98 mph regularly on the radar gun.

It was a much better effort than his first rehab start last Saturday in Port Charlotte when he gave up five runs on eight hits and pitched just three innings.

"He got contact early, didn't mess around, worked ahead, worked all his pitches in, threw breaking balls for strikes, which he didn't do last time," rehab pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal told FoxSports Florida's Frank Forte on the TV broadcast. "One thing he didn't do tonight -- he did not overthrow and he stayed 94 to 98 without even trying. This was a huge step to go onto the next outing. "

Dee Gordon has good week off the field; why A.J. Ramos enjoys holding onto the pain of a blown save

Dee Gordon had a rough series earlier this week in Toronto. His 1-for-13 run at the plate against the Blue Jays dropped baseball's top batting average from .372 to .356.

But it still turned out to be a pretty cool stretch of days off the field for the Marlins lead off man and second baseman. He had two family members taken in the Major League Draft and his former Seminole Community College roommate, Giants pitcher Chris Heston, threw a no-hitter on Tuesday.

"We text each other all the time," Gordon said of Heston. "He always talks about how he struck me out in our first inter squad game. But in the minor leagues I got a hit off him. So I always talk trash about that." 

Monday, the kid Gordon refers to as his little brother -- 18-year old left-handed pitcher Juan Hillman -- was taken with the 59th overall pick by the Cleveland Indians in the major league draft.

Gordon's father Tom, the famous All-Star pitcher, became Hillman's legal guardian four years ago to help the young ballplayer get his baseball career on track and to help ease the burden on Hillman's mother, who had her other children who needed her attention.

Tom coached Hillman and Dee's younger brother Nick, the Twins' first round pick last year, on a travel baseball team. He also helped Hillman gain exposure by taking him to showcase events.

"It's just a blessing for Juan to get drafted," said Dee, who has run baseball and basketball camps in the winter at his old high school in Avon Park, Fla. to help promote sports to kids. "My dad does a lot for people. For him to do that [take Hillman in] it was nothing out of the norm for us."

Gordon said he also had a cousin, Lakeland High first baseman Tyrone Perry, get drafted in the 14th round on Wednesday. Perry also played on Tom Gordon's travel team before it dissolved two years ago because his father spent the majority of his time helping Nick and Juan get their careers started.

Dee said either way it's nice to see so many young African Americans getting drafted in baseball lately.

"We're trying to make a comeback," Gordon said. "On my own, I'm trying to show kids you can play in the major leagues and getting drafted isn't a far cry."

RAMOS HOLDING ONTO MISTAKE

Marlins closer A.J. Ramos isn't one of those guys who likes to flush failures down the toilet. 

After serving up the game-winning home run to Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion and blowing his first save as closer in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays, Ramos said Thursday he's kept replaying the moment in his mind as motivation. And he says he'll use it the next time he gets back out on the mound.

"Obviously you want to forget about it, but I don't take that approach for the most part. I leave it with me so that next time I'm out there it kind of fuels me," he said. "Like I told you before, I'm very motivated. I find ways to motivate myself. It may not be conventional, like to remember that, remember the pitch and everything. But at the same time that's how I keep going forward."

Encarnacion jumped on a first pitch cutter from Ramos, who said he's starting to notice a trend with the way hitters are approaching him and swinging early in the count.

"That's fine," Ramos said. "I've got three other pitches I can throw for strikes. There, I was trying to get ahead. It wasn't a bad pitch, but it was just up a little bit. Normally, when I throw it to the outside corner it cuts. That one kind of stayed true. So from now on, maybe throwing cutters first pitch -- or something else -- just depends on how I feel that day."

June 11, 2015

Mat Latos talks rehab, return from DL; why Yelich is batting 3rd and Stanton 4th

It hasn't been a fun season for Mat Latos, but at least he still has his sense of humor.

Scheduled to make his first start for the Marlins Saturday after a 22-day stint on the disabled list with left knee inflammation, Latos (1-4, 6.12 ERA in nine starts) was playfully combative with reporters in the clubhouse Thursday.

He talked about the "black plague" on his left leg. That's what he calls the deep bruise left behind by  Cameron Maybin's screaming line drive to the mound on May 16. Latos later referred to his trip to Triple A New Orleans for his rehab start Monday as "fantastic" and then said, "I love going to Triple A."

Then, Latos unfurled this gem when asked about the Marlins' playoff hopes: "If we're going to win a championship before the All-Star Game then we're screwed."

All joking aside, Latos, knows the Marlins, who began the day 7 1/2 games back in the division, are starving for some quality starting pitching (they rank 23rd with a ERA 4.45). And he also knows he has to start turning things around for himself if he's going to warrant big dollars in free agency next season.

Right now, the trade the Marlins made with the Reds to acquire Latos this winter appears totally one sided. Anthony DeSclafani, whom the Marlins gave up in the deal, is 5-4 with a 3.53 ERA for the Reds in 12 starts.

"Whether its me, whether its Tom [Koehler], Brad [Hand], Henderson [Alvarez]... we need guys that are going to go seven-plus innings and stop taxing the bullpen," said Latos, who made just one start this season that lasted seven innings (back on May 10 at San Francisco). "I certainly haven't pitched to the level of my ability. So I take just as much blame."

Latos said there were "no issues" with his knee, leg, arm or body and that he "wasn't breathing heavy" after his start Monday for the Zephyrs. But he wasn't sharp. Latos threw 99 pitches and only gave up three hits and one run, but he walked five in 4 2/3 innings. 

Manager Dan Jennings said the report he got back from New Orleans was that Latos was hitting 95 mph on the radar gun, "the best velocity we had seen." Now the question is if the Marlins will see the best of Latos moving forward.

Said Latos: "Hopefully I didn't skip anything and I can just get into a rhythm and pitch real good."

DEE GORDON RESTS

Jennings gave Major League hits leader and leadoff man Dee Gordon his first night off since May 9 on Thursday to rest his legs.

Gordon has hit .270 over his last 25 games and seen his batting average drop from .433 on May 15 to .356. Gordon still entered the day Thursday seven points better than Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt for the best batting average in the majors.

Adeiny Hechavarria batted at the top of the lineup for the first time since May 18, 2014. Hechavarria entered the day as a career .225 hitter in the top spot in 26 starts. He is a career .298 hitter in the eighth spot.

Also, for the second straight day, Jennings had Christian Yelich batting third and Giancarlo Stanton in the cleanup spot.

"With the way Christian is swinging we see a lot of positive stuff with his rhythm and balance and timing," Jennings said. "He hit a home run the other night and shot a double down the line [Wednesday]. So we felt like we could go left right left at the top of that order and create some more traffic on the bags for Giancarlo that stands to benefit us and give us a chance to put runs up early."

> The Marlins drafted Jeff Conine's son, Griffin, in the 31st round Wednesday. Jennings thoughts: "You know I hope he turns out to be the kind of player that his dad was or better. Based on what Jeff’s telling me, he is a much better player right now than Jeff was at the same stage. So I’ll trust Jeff’s opinion and hopefully the young man will develop and be a fine major league player."

> Jennings said he hopes Jarred Cosart's rehab start Thursday night in New Orleans will be his last. Cosart has been on the disabled list since May 14 with vertigo.

> First baseman Michael Morse, on the disabled list since May 24 with a right ring finger sprain, is swinging a bat according to Jennings. No word yet on when Morse will start a rehab assignment.

> Pitcher Henderson Alvarez's shoulder inflammation is gone and he's throwing on flat ground from 60 feet. Alvarez said there are no plans yet as far as when he'll throw a bullpen.