March 21, 2015

Rangers in talks with Marlins for Brad Hand; Rule 5 pick Andrew McKirahan could be dealt

JUPITER -- The Marlins are in trade with discussions with the Texas Rangers for Brad Hand. And he might not be the only left-hander the Marlins end up trading before the end of spring training.

According to sources, a host of teams are interested in Andrew McKirahan, the southpaw reliever the Marlins selected in the Rule 5 draft. McKirahan, who belonged formerly to the Cubs organization, is in high demand.

And since it appears he won't win a spot in their bullpen, the Marlins would prefer to deal the pitcher rather than give him back to the Cubs, which would require them to first place him on waivers. Interest is such in McKirahan that the Marlins would rather get something for the pitcher rather than lose him on waivers.

As for Hand, the left-hander is out of options and can't be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. Knowing that he would be claimed, the Marlins might try to squeeze a middle- to high-level prospect from the Rangers -- or anyone else -- for the lefty.

As a result of their many offseason trades, the Marlins now feel a need to strengthen their minor-league system, which was weakened over the winter.

Henderson Alvarez, Jordan Zimmermann engage in target practice -- with each other

VIERA -- Henderson Alvarez struck Jordan Zimmermann with a pitch.

Then Zimmermann sent Alvarez sprawling to his knees with a little payback offering, provoking an exchange of words.

It didn’t escalate further. But give it time.

If Saturday’s spring training game -- a 4-2 win by the Nationals over the Marlins -- is any indication, it could be an interesting season series when the two N.L. East rivals hook up for real.

Zimmermann, facing the Marlins for the first time since no-hitting them on closing day last season, was hit by an Alvarez pitch in his first at bat.

When Alvarez came to bat in the fourth, Zimmermann left him eating dirt in the batter’s box in an attempt to get out of the way of an inside pitch.

Alvarez said he wasn’t trying to hit Zimmermann on purpose, and Zimmermann said he was throwing inside to Alvarez because he thought he was squaring to bunt.

None of it looked harmless, though.

And Alvarez said afterward that he thought Zimmermann was trying to send a “message” with his inside offering.

“I thought Zimmermann’s was intentional,” Alvarez said through a translator. “It was just kind of returning the message.”

Marlins manager Mike Redmond said Alvarez “struggled with his command” and “had a tough time locating all of his pitches, but acknowledged that “anytime you hit the pitcher, it looks bad, right?”

“But he certainly wasn’t trying to hit the pitcher on purpose,” Redmond said of the Alvarez plunking of Zimmermann.

-- The Marlins have announced an 11 a.m. Sunday press conference at which they are expected to announce the signing of outfielder Christian Yelich to a 7-year contract extension worth $49.57 million.

Miami Marlins have avoided the spring injury bug

VIERA -- Outside of Adeiny Hechavarria's "tired arm" that caused the shortstop to miss a handful of games early on, the Marlins have avoided a serious spring training injury to any of their players. And, yes, they are knocking on wood the trend continues to the season opener on April 6.

"We've been fortunate," said manager Mike Redmond. "I try not to think about it too much."

Redmond is asked everyday to provide a health update, and everyday his answer has remained consistent: "Nothing to report."

The same can't be said for other teams around the league. Just within the National League East, the Mets lost Zach Wheeler with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Phillies lost Cliff Lee with a forearm injury that could cost him the season, and the Nationals are presently without Anthony Rendon (torn MCL) and Yunel Escobar (oblique), not to mention Jayson Werth, who underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and won't be ready for the start of the season.

For a fuller picture, take a look at this team-by-team list of injuries and ailments, and it becomes abundantly clear the Marlins are living a charmed existence. Outside of Jose Fernandez, who is working his way back from Tommy John and is due back in mid-summer, the medical report on the Marlins is clean.

"We've been fortunate and hopefully that will remain the case," Redmond said. "I think it's always a concern for everybody. There's no doubt that a lot of success for the season rests on keeping guys healthy."

More than two weeks remain to the opener, so the Marlins out of the woods yet. They lost Alejandro De Aza  with a sprained ankle he sustained in the final exhibition game in 2008. And last year, Ed Lucas was hit by a pitch in the final Grapefruit League game, breaking his hand, only hours after learning he had made his first Opening Day roster. 

March 18, 2015

Bour, Dietrich, Realmuto, Rienzo & Rojas optioned to Triple A

JUPITER -- The clubhouse population is continuing to thin as the Marlins made more roster cuts Wednesday, with the latest round centered around high-level minor-leaguers on the team's 40-man roster.

First baseman Justin Bour, infielder Derek Dietrich, catcher J.T. Realmuto, reliever Andre Rienzo and infielder Miguel Rojas were optioned to Triple A New Orleans while pitcher Chris Narveson was reassigned to minor league camp.

Wednesday's reductions bring the spring roster to 44 players, meaning the Marlins must whittle 19 more before the season opener on April 6.

"These are guys we felt like weren't going to make the team, and we wanted them to go down and get some at bats," said manager Mike Redmond. "These are guys that have big-league time, so it's a tough conversation. I'm sure they were wishing they were able to stay longer. I guess the message to those guys is just to be ready. These guys are all good players. It just shows the depth that we have now, and it's nice to have these guys in Triple A. I know it's not nice for them because they all want to make the team."

It's uncertain whether Narveson, a non-roster invitee, will accept the assignment and remain in the organization. But the Marlins are hoping he will.

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With the exception of Mat Latos, who will be on the mound, Redmond's lineup for this afternoon's game against the Nationals is very likely the one he'll send out in the season opener.

1. Dee Gordon, 2b; 2. Christian Yelich, lf; 3. Giancarlo Stanton, rf; 4. Michael Morse, 1b; 5. Martin Prado, 3b; 6 Marcell Ozuna, cf; 7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c; 8. Adeiny Hechavarria, ss; 9. Mat Latos, p.

March 15, 2015

It Takes a Thief: Dee Gordon Steals Juan Pierre's jersey

JUPITER -- Dee Gordon caused a lot of double takes during Sunday's batting practice when he showed up wearing the jersey of Juan Pierre, who was hanging out by the cage.

"Just stole it," Gordon said, laughing. "I saw it, took it, and put it on."


Pierre got a big laugh out of the joke. Then again, it takes one to know one -- a fellow base stealer that is.

"He thought it was funny," said Gordon, who led the majors in stolen bases last season. "I was obviously messing around with him because he was here."

Gordon, who wears Pierre's No. 9, has been bonding with the former Marlin base-stealing king, picking Pierre's head for tips and advice.

"We talk all the time," Gordon said. "I ask a lot of questions about hitting, base stealing -- everything. I'm just trying to get everything from him. He's a great guy."

 

March 14, 2015

A year after bad bounce broke nose, changed fortunes, Dietrich working towards spot with Marlins

VIERA -- Derek Dietrich doesn't want to talk about the bad hop that broke his nose and changed his fortunes last spring.

In fact, he doesn't really want to talk about last season at all. That's when the door was open for him to try and cement a place with the Marlins and he  failed, hitting .228 and making 10 errors after starting the season as the primary second baseman with Rafael Furcal injured.

"This is a new season," he said last week. "I've moved on from that [bad bounce to the face] and I don't even want to address that anymore. That's something I couldn't control. It's not even in my mind anymore."

The only thing on Dietrich's mind this spring: finding a spot -- any spot -- on the Marlins roster.

With Dee Gordon firmly in place at second base, Dietrich, 25, is trying to become an infield utility man for the Marlins, working mostly at first and third base. He's starting for the Marlins at third today against the Nationals.

"He's just learning," Marlins infield coach Perry Hill said. "Third [base] he's picking up okay. First [base], there's a lot of little nuances he's got to learn, still has to iron things out. His value to him and to us would be to play all four [infield spots] in the National League."

Before the bad bounce last March 20, Dietrich's defense wasn't much of a concern. He made just two errors in 258 chances (57 games) for the Marlins as a rookie in 2013.

After the bad bounce, it was a different story. He made 10 errors (six fielding) in 202 chances at second last season and it eventually forced the Marlins to plug-in the more sure-handed Donovan Solano and Ed Lucas. The one time Dietrich played third for the Marlins last season -- all of 2 2/3 innings -- he made a throwing error the one time a grounder went his way. 

"I think it took him awhile to get over that. I think he would tell you the same thing," Hill said of the bad bounce which broke Dietrich's nose. "But he's looked really good this spring. He's handled everything really well."

Hill said Dietrich has had a great attitude towards the Marlins asking him to play different positions. 

"He works hard," Hill said. "He takes his balls every day at the different positions. We keep him after [batting practice], take him to the Bone Yard, smooth things out mainly at first base now. That's probably his workest area right now. But the other day in Minnesota he played real well. He's handled everything real well."

A former shortstop and 2010 second round pick out of Georgia Tech, Dietrich said he feels comfortable at third base because he has had some experience there. He's never played first base, though, until now.

"Third base I played on the USA Team in college," he said. "My grandfather was of course a major league third baseman so I started taking balls there at a young age. I played a lot of shortstop so I know that side of the diamond. When you get down to it, even first base, a ground ball is a ground ball. There's some quirks and footwork around the bag. Other than that, it's been a pretty comfortable transition, just getting the work in every day.

"I'm here to make the Major League club -- whatever I can do to help this team at this point. I'm not even thinking about the minor leagues. I want to help this club, make this team. If it's there, then I'll do whatever they ask of me to help this team."

March 12, 2015

With the help of Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart trying to add change-up to arsenal

FORT MYERS -- Marlins right-hander Jarred Cosart has been hearing it from pitching coaches for years: he needs to start using his change-up more often.

He knows the pitch will help him navigate through a lineup the third and fourth time through, get him deeper into games and make him a better starting pitcher overall. He just hasn't really ever trusted it enough to throw it in games.

"You get out here and Joe Mauer is in the box and you're kind of like 'Do I really want to do this?'" Cosart said following his second spring start Thursday. "I told myself today, 'You're just going to throw it.'"

Armed with a new grip -- one that he sort of copied off teammate Henderson Alvarez -- Cosart said he threw his change-up about five to six times against the Twins Thursday and got mixed results. He said the plan is to amp up the usage even more in his next start. 

"I got two swings and misses and then [gave up a] ground ball hit," Cosart said in recounting how the day went with his change. "I threw one for a strike to [Twins center fielder Aaron] Hicks on the first pitch. 

"It's going to be a huge pitch for me when we're getting in late in-game situations, sixth, seventh inning. If I get into a 2-0 count I can throw one for a strike and then get a groundball for an out. I'm really happy with the progress."

Cosart, 24, has one of the better fastballs in the game (8.0 value according to Fangraphs ranked 23rd among 87 starting pitchers in 2014). But he uses it a ton (70.1 percent) and ranked as the fifth-most fastball reliant pitcher in baseball last season, using his curveball 25.6 percent of the time and change-up only 4.2 percent of the time (62nd out of 80 starters who threw it with any frequency). 

So, adding the change-up to his arsenal this spring could be pivotal to his success as he makes more and more starts in the majors. He's made just 40 in two seasons and is 14-12 with 3.26 ERA.

"As you can see in the big leagues, you can't just fire heaters," manager Mike Redmond said. "You have to have off-speed pitches and have an out pitch to get these guys out."

In Thursday's 7-6 loss to the Twins, Cosart faced 10 hitters. He gave up four hits, three earned runs, a walk and a home run in two innings of work. He's not too worried about those results because he knows he's experimenting with the change-up and throwing it in pitch counts he normally wouldn't. But at the same time, Cosart said, he wants to grow and progress and not give up runs either -- even if it's just spring.

"Watching any of the great ones, they throw it," Cosart said of the changeup. "Hamels is one of the best in our division. [Max] Scherzer uses it way more now than when he got roughed up a couple times [when he first started throwing it]. It's just a matter of trusting it."

> Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon got a chance Thursday to catch up with his younger half-brother Nick Gordon, the Twins' 2014 first round pick.

A shortstop, Nick, 19, was practicing on the backfields at the Twins spring training complex Thursday morning. After his older brother's game, he was in the Marlins clubhouse hanging out.

"I walked over this morning [to the backfields] and I didn't realize how close we were to [our] stretch [time] and I almost showed up late," Gordon said. "t was my first time seeing him in a professional uniform. It was good."

The elder Gordon said he talks to his brother everyday. "Facetime, text, he doesn't let me breathe," Gordon said. "But that's what a little brother is supposed to do."

Hechavarria to see first action in a week; Marlins say double play tandem has plenty of time left to mesh

FORT MYERS -- Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who hasn't played since the Grapefruit League opener against the Cardinals on March 5th, is back in the lineup for the first time in a week.

The Marlins say Hechavarria, 26, is over his dead arm issue and can now get back to working with his new double play partner Dee Gordon

"He probably could have played two days ago, but like I said, we had the time to give him to make sure he's feeling good," manager Mike Redmond said. "Hech is a huge part of our team and our defense and we need to make sure he's 100 percent. If you have the time to be able to give him that's only going to help him. That's why we gave him the extra couple days off."

Hechavarria has battled dead arm issues in the past. What exactly is dead arm? Marlins infield coach Perry Hill described it as weakness is the arm after a player has rested it from soreness.

"Basically, you can't put oomph behind the ball," Hill said. "It just doesn't feel like it's coming out. There's nothing behind it. [The arm] doesn't hurt any more, but there's no strength because you've babied it, gone through a rehab and thrown only so many balls per day, nothing less, nothing more. So you lack the strength. There's no more hurt, but the strength isn't there yet."

The Marlins aren't worried that Gordon and Hechavarria haven't had a lot of in-game action together yet.  

"We have a month to go," Hill said. "Our system is so structured we know when we're going to flip it, throw it. I don't think it's going to be a big deal."

Hill said he's been impressed with Gordon's athleticism and isn't the least bit worried he and Hechavarria will mesh by the time the season starts against the Braves at Marlins Park on April 6.

"Some of the terminology we're still working on, but Dee will figure things out," Hill said. "He's such a good athlete he's demonstrated a couple times he can make it up because he's so talented."

Redmond said the plan with Hechavarria is to get him two at-bats and four or five innings of defensive work Thursday. All position players will start ramping up their workload with about 10 days left in the spring, Redmond said.

THURSDAY'S LINEUP

> Marlins (5-2): 1. Dee Gordon 2B, 2. Christian Yelich LF, 3. Marcell Ozuna CF, 4. Justin Bour 1B, 5. Reed Johnson DH, 6. Adeiny Hechavarria SS, 7. Jeff Mathis C, 8. Don Kelly RF, 9. Donovan Solano 3B. RHP Jarred Cosart

> Twins (3-3-1): 1. Brian Dozier 2B, 2. Shane Robinson LF, 3. Joe Mauer 1B, 4. Kennys Vargas DH, 5. Torii Hunter RF, 6. Miguel Sano 3B, 7. Eduardo Escobar SS, 8. Josmil Pinto C, 9. Aaron Hicks CF. RHP Phil Hughes.

 

March 11, 2015

Ichiro has the final word with T-shirt

JUPITER -- To the surprise of Japanese journalists, Ichiro Suzuki showed up Wednesday morning wearing a plain white t-shirt, at least on the front. Every day since spring training started, Suzuki had arrived wearing a different t-shirt, some of them with humorous sayings or inside jokes written in Japanese.

Photos of Suzuki wearing his t-shirts began showing up in Japanese newspapers, creating a fashion craze that prompted fans to rush out and buy those that could be purchased. But when he showed up Wednesday to Marlins' spring training camp, he brought the fad to an end.

150311Ichiro3"There's been a photographer every morning just to take that picture, to get the t-shirt, because everyday it was going in the papers," said Suzuki's translator, Allen Turner. "It's been a big thing in Japan. The t-shirts that he’s worn, they’ve scrambled and tried to make more, because people want to buy them."

Suzuki's teammates on the Marlins had no idea about any of it, but found it comical when informed about his daily t-shirt ritual.

"It’s like the Ichiro t-shirt watch?,'" asked Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler. "That's hysterical. I had no idea." 

But Ichiro brought the fad to a clever end on Wednesday, and getting the last laugh in the process. While the cluster of Japanese reporters on hand to chronicle Suzuki's every move were surprised at first to see him wearing a plain t-shirt, even they had to laugh when he turned his back to reveal another message.

Written in Japanese were the words: "This is the last one."

So what does Suzuki wear next?

“This is the last t-shirt, so maybe I'll be like Stanton and paint something on," he said with a grin.

March 10, 2015

Marlins interested in Cuban infielder Hector Olivera

JUPITER -- Count the Marlins among teams interested in Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, a 29-year-old impact player who is now regarded as the best available free agent.

According to sources, the Marlins have had discussions with Olivera's representatives. Whether the Marlins can afford Olivera given reports that the price tag could be anywhere from $50-70 million is unclear. While many believe Olivera is major-league ready, the Marlins are set at second base with Dee Gordon and third with Martin Prado. So finding room on the infield for the Cuban star is another question.

OliveraThere was yet another development on Tuesday when it was reported that Olivera had changed representatives, going from Rudy Santin to Greg Genske. The Marlins had had conversations with Satin, so whether the switch impacts the Marlins in any way is also unclear.

But sources said the idea of playing and living in Miami is appealing to Olivera, and the Marlins have sent scouts to look at him numerous times.

Olivera played 10 seasons in the Cuban National Series, hitting .323 with 96 home runs and 433 RBI.

Other teams that have been connected to Olivera include the Braves, Padres, Dodgers, Mariners, Yankees, Giants and A's. The Braves have reportedly made an offer.

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Mat Latos will make his first spring training start on Friday when the Marlins face the Cardinals. Latos was scratched from his scheduled first start on Monday and instead pitched a two-inning simulation game on one of the backfield diamonds.

"We got exactly what we needed out of it," Latos said.

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Adeiny Hechavarria said he was ready to return to game action Tuesday. But the Marlins decided to give the shortstop another day to rest what's been termed as a "tired arm."

"He says he's feeling better," said manager Mike Redmond. "But we want to get him out here, make some throws, go through a full day of activities, before we send him out in a game."

Redmond said Hechavarria, who has missed all but one spring game so far, might be back in the lineup as early as Wednesday.