June 20, 2014

Redmond feeling better about the Marlins bullpen these days; Turner talks move to pen

It wasn't too long ago that the bullpen was giving Marlins skipper Mike Redmond headaches with nightmarish eighth inning meltdowns and other disappointing performances.

"I feel a lot better about the bullpen," lately Redmond said before Friday's game against the Mets.

A suddenly dominant Chris Hatcher (he's struckout 12 of the last 13 hitters he's faced), a rock solid Bryan Morris (he hasn't given up a run in 11 1/3 innings since being acquired on June 1st from the Pirates) and the recent arrival of 36-year old veteran Kevin Gregg (he tossed a 1-2-3 eight inning Thursday in his debut) have all played key roles in that.

Although the bullpen is still surrendering more runs per game this season (4.28, 18th) than last season (3.99, 12th), Marlins relievers are doing a better job handling inherited runners than they were a year ago (26% compared to 30%) and rank higher in save percentage (12th compared to 18th last year).

"It's a lot deeper," Redmond said of his pen. "We have a lot more depth. We're stronger out there.

"But the key is still the starting pitching. Where you can get exposed is when you get four or five innings out of our starters a couple days in a row -- as you saw against the Pirates. You get thin. That bullpen has to eat up a lot of innings. They just can't keep that pace up. Last night was perfect. We got six innings out of [Andrew] Heaney. You saw those guys come in and what they were able to do. But that's the key. It's always a process. Every team not just us. I feel a lot better about the bullpen. We've just got to put it all together and get some wins here."

Redmond said the Marlins sent Gregg down to the minors with a plan to be able to pitch on multiple days in a row and the veteran doesn't have any restrictions. 

"Last night I thought it was perfect to get him in there to be able to see how he looks," Redmond said. "He did a great job. He's going to fit in perfect in that bullpen."

BEST OUTFIELD IN BASEBALL

Jake Marisnick picked up his first outfield assist of the season Thursday night when he came racing in from center field to catch a fly ball and then gunned out Mets lead-off hitter Eric Young Jr. with a bullet throw to first base in the eighth inning.

Marisnick has always been considered a standout defensive player through the minor leagues so it was no surprise.

"You see the athleticism out there with him," Redmond said. "Jake has a good arm. He's aggressive defensively. He's done a great job out there. I've been fortunate to see him play a lot of centerfield. He's good out there."

Even before Marisnick got here on Monday, the Marlins were already playing like sensational as a group. According to Baseball Info Solutions, Marlins outfielders lead baseball with 26 runs saved this season -- five more than the Mets, who are in second. Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton ranks third among all outfielders with 13 runs saved. Marcell Ozuna, the usual starter in center, is sixth overall with nine runs saved. Left fielder Christian Yelich, expected to be back from the disabled list on June 29th, ranks 29th with four runs saved.

"Those guys can cover a lot of ground," Redmond said. "That's fun -- especially in this ballpark. The gaps are big and the ballpark is spacious. We have fast young guys out there that can cover a lot of ground. Pitching wise it's a lot more comforting you know you have those guys out there."

TURNER ADJUSTING TO BULLPEN LIFE

Before he was booted out of the Marlins rotation on Monday, Jacob Turner had made all but one of his 117 professional appearances as a starting pitcher.

 

Manager Mike Redmond said Turner, the former ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft, is going to have to pitch a lot better in his new role as a long reliever before the team considers putting him back into the rotation.

 

"Whether it's a confidence thing or just a result thing, he needs to pitch better," Redmond said. "If he's able to do that then we'll see where we're at as far the rotation. 

 

"It just came to a point where he hasn't had enough success to keep him in there. We still love him and love his stuff and there's more in there. Now it's just a matter of him without the pressure [of starting] coming out and being able to pitch out of the bullpen and get his stuff back."

 

Turner, who is 7-18 with a 4.70 ERA as a starter in the big leagues, would obviously prefer to start. It's all he's known. 

 

"But at the same time I understand their perspective on it," Turner said. "So, I'm not so much saying it shouldn't be this way. I just have to go down there and execute and be more consistent. I think when I do that good things will happen."

"Slowing down the snowball effect," is what Turner said he has to do.

In his first four losses of the season big innings hurt Turner. In his first loss of the season against the Dodgers on May 13, he gave up five runs in the sixth after starting the game with five scoreless innings. In his next loss May 18 at the Giants, Turner surrendered three runs in the first before settling in and giving up four runs total over six innings. 

"I don't think it's anything other than executing the big pitch when you have to," Turner said. "A lot of times you might be in the heart of the lineup, facing a 3 or 4 hitter and you have to really bear down and make a couple quality pitches to get yourself out of the situation. 

"Unfortunately early in the season I just wasn't able to do that in a couple starts. That inning turned from giving up one or two runs to giving up four or five runs. I think that ruined a lot of outings for me. It's just about going out there and being as consistent as I can so when that situation comes up I make the good pitch."

FRIDAY'S LINEUPS

> Marlins (36-36): 1. Rafael Furcal 2B, 2. Adeiny Hechavarria SS, 3. Giancarlo Stanton RF, 4. Casey McGehee 3B, 5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C, 6. Garrett Jones 1B, 7. Marcell Ozuna LF, 8. Jake Marisnick CF, 9. Henderson Alvarez RHP.

> Mets (33-40): 1. Eric Young Jr. LF, 2. Daniel Murphy 2B, 3. David Wright 3B, 4. Curtis Granderson CF, 5 Bobby Abreu RF, 6. Lucas Duda 1B, 7. Anthony Recker C, 8. Ruben Tejada SS, 9. Daisuke Matsuzaka RHP.

June 19, 2014

Saltalamacchia back, eager to see Heaney he caught this spring -- and he's sticking with his hockey mask

Jarrod Saltalamacchia didn't get to spend a ton of time catching Marlins top prospect Andrew Heaney this spring. In fact, he thinks he only caught about an inning or two in Grapefruit League action.

But Saltamacchia said he's definitely seen enough of him to know the 2012 first round pick is pretty good.

"The one thing I noticed was his composure," said Saltalamacchia, who rejoined the Marlins Thursday after spending the last three weeks on the disabled list recovering from concussion-like symptoms and rehabbing down in Jupiter. "Usually young guys getting their opportunity try to impress and try to throw 100 mph. He wasn't. He was real fluid, pounding the strike zone, mixing his offspeed pitches, didn't overthrow. Hoping we can see that again tonight."

Heaney’s 38 career minor league appearances are the second-fewest of any Marlins’ first-round draft pick (pitchers only) prior to making his Major League debut. Jose Fernandez made just 27 appearances before his debut in 2013; Josh Beckett made 39 appearances prior to his debut in 2003; and Chris Volstad appeared in 82 games before his debut in 2008.

Heaney went 17-7 with a 2.31 ERA, 198 strikeouts and only 48 walks in those 38 appearances in the minors between Single and Triple A. Fernandez was 14-2 with a 2.02 ERA, 165 strikeouts and 39 walks in his minor league stint, which never went past High-A.

"When you have young pitchers it's a nerve-wracking day," manager Mike Redmond said. "There's a lot of emotions, adrenaline, a lot of firsts. No doubt his first start there are going to be some things that he's probably not going to be anticipating. But that's why you've got veteran catchers to anticipate tough situations and talk them through anything that comes up during the course of the game.

"Salty's been around a long time. He and [Jeff] Mathis both have spoken to Heaney to prepare him as much as they possibly can for tonight. But most importantly it's about him going out there and pitching his game, enjoying it and most importantly having fun, doing what he's done so well throughout the minor leagues. Hopefully that translates into a big night for him and a big win for us."

Saltalamacchia said he doesn't anticipate the moment being too big for Heaney.

"Just seeing him, talking with him yesterday seems like he has that personality already," Saltalamacchia said. "If the game speeds up i'll slow it down for him a little bit. The focus is obviously going to be taking care of him and helping him get the win tonight."

SALTY STICKING WITH MASK

Saltalamacchia, who was struck by a foul ball behind the plate back on May 31, said he's going to stick with the same hockey-style catcher's mask he's worn even though former Red Sox teammate David Ross switched to a traditional catcher's mask after sustaining a similar concussion last August.

"There's no evidence saying the hockey mask is the reason concussions are happening, but I know the traditional masks are better," Saltalamacchia said. "Still, I'm going to stick with the same mask. It was just a matter of hitting that spot."

Redmond said the Marlins will keep a close eye on Saltalamacchia and give him a day off if he needs it. Saltalmacchia said he felt good catching and hitting down in the minors after some extended spring training work, but "the only timing you're going to get is by being up here. You can only get so many A balls or Triple A balls."

After hitting .299 with five homers and nine RBI in April, Saltamacchia hit just .177 with one homer and seven RBI in 23 games as he struggled throughout May.

> Redmond said left fielder Christian Yelich, who took "dry swings' and played catch Thursday, should be ready to go as soon as his stint on the disabled list ends on July 1.

"I know he's feeling good," Redmond said. "He'll probably get a couple [rehab] games in before he's up and ready to go."

> Giancarlo Stanton reiterated Thursday he probably could have stayed in the game Wednesday, but was wisely taken out as a precautionary measure after bruising his wrist.

"I'll be fine. I'll be out there today," Stanton said. "It looked like it was just about out of hand already. So the smartest decision was to get out of there."

THURSDAY'S LINEUPS

> Marlins (36-35): 1. Rafael Furcal 2B, 2. Jake Marisnick CF, 3. Giancarlo Stanton RF, 4. Casey McGehee 3B, 5. Garrett Jones 1B, 6. Marcell Ozuna LF, 7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C, 8. Adeiny Hechavarria SS, 9. Andrew Heaney LHP.

> Mets (32-40): 1. Eric Young Jr. LF, 2. Daniel Murphy 2B, 3. David Wright 3B, 4. Eric Campbell 1B, 5. Curtis Granderson RF, 6. Chris Young LF, 7. Taylor Teagarden C, 8. Ruben Tejada SS, 9. Zack Wheeler RHP.

June 18, 2014

Brad Penny agrees to minor league deal w/Marlins

The Marlins are reaching back into their past in an attempt to add veteran pitching depth, agreeing to terms Wednesday with Brad Penny on a minor-league deal.

Penny, 36, has not pitched in the majors since 2012. But his fastball was clocked at 95 mph when he worked out recently for a handful of teams.

Penny, who ranks fifth on the Marlins' all-time wins list and won two games for them in the 2003 World Series, will report to Jupiter initially before receiving a minor-league assignment.

If he makes the major league club, Penny will receive $800,000 (pro-rated) plus incentives in what is a low-risk deal for the Marlins. The deal is pending a physical.

Penny began his MLB career with the Marlins in 2000 and compiled a record of 48-42 before being traded to the Dodgers during the 2004 season. In 13 major league seasons that also included stops with the Red Sox, Giants, Cardinals and Tigers, Penny went 119-100 with a 4.26 ERA.

He was an All-Star in 2006 and '07 with the Dodgers, and finished third in the N.L. Cy Young Award in '07. He has not pitched in the majors since he was with the Giants in 2012, working 22 games in relief (6.11 ERA).

June 17, 2014

Are the Marlins a legitimate contender?

The Marlins begin the day one game out of first in the National League East. But their staying power near the top of the standings has had more to do with the mediocrity that permeates the division than it does with any great success on their part.

These were the NL East standings to start the day on May 9, the last time Jose Fernandez would take the mound for the Marlins:

Miami            20-15        --

Washington    19-15        .5

Atlanta          18-15       1.0

New York       16-17       3.0

Philadelphia   15-18       4.0

Counting the Marlins' loss in San Diego on that fateful night at Petco Park, their record since has been 15-19. But their division rivals have been puttering along, too. The Nationals have gone 16-18 since then. The Mets (15-22) and Phillies (15-20) are also staggering. Only the Braves have managed to play .500 ball -- but exactly .500 with an 18-18 mark.

"I wouldn't say anything's mediocre about any of those teams, including us," said manager Mike Redmond. "But nobody's been able to take that big streak. This year it seems like everybody's a couple or three games over .500, then they'll lose three or four in a row, and kind of allow everybody to stay in. For us, it's great being that we've gone through this spell where we haven't really played that great (and are still in it). I think we're waiting to get hot."

So the question becomes, are the Marlins really a playoff caliber team? Or is their relative success a mirage waiting to disappear the moment some other team in the division finally gets going and takes off?

Open for discussion....

_________________

Jake Marisnick singled twice, walked and stole two bases in his first game up on Monday, after which manager Mike Redmond said he felt a little like a kid waking up on Christmas. Or something to similar to that feeling, anyhow.

"It kind of feels like a new toy out there," Redmond said. "He brings that weapon, being able to steal a base. We don't have a lot of speed. (But) he's a guy that can raelly change a game with his legs. It's fun to watch. He's aggressive and he's not scared, and I think you saw that in the way he played tonight."

The only other time this season that a Marlins has stolen at least two bases in a game was on June 6 at Wrigley Field when Christian Yelich swiped a pair. The Marlins rank last in the NL in stolen bases with 23.

__________________

Extra-inning games and brief outings by Marlins starters have conspired to tax the bullpen during the homestand. Marlins relievers have been required to cover 23 1/3 innings during the four games, or more innings (21 2/3) than the starters have provided during the stretch.

Of course, it doesn't help matters that the Marlins have had to play three extra-inning games during that span, including a pair of 13-inning marathons. But the starters of late, outside of Henderson Alvarez, haven't been logging their fair share of the load, either.

"I think our bullpen, for the most part, has done a really nice job, eating up a lot of innings," Redmond said. "We're eating up a ton of innings."

Bryan Morris has been a positive addition to the pen. Morris, obtained in that Pirates deal for a draft pick, has delivered 9 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball for the Marlins since joining the team.

But the heavy useage in recent days has left the Marlins thin in the pen for tonight's game. "We definitely have some guys down there we'd like to stay away from," Redmond said. "We're beat up down there."

Redmond said Sam Dyson and Jacob Turner are available tonight. But, beyond that.....Redmond said rookie starter Anthony DeSclafani needs to pitch deep.

__________________

Have you noticed Chris Hatcher's numbers his past few outings? He's striking out everything in sight. In fact, he has established a new Marlins record. Of the last 13 outs he has recorded, 12 have been whiffs. No Marlins pitcher had ever done that before over any 13-out span, according to the good folks at the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I'm throwing the ball down," Hatcher said. "Once you get the ball down, other pitches become a big asset. Guys don't know what to look for. I feel like I'm pitching more like I do in the minors. It also goes back to a trust thing, having at least two pitches (fastball and splitter) you know you can throw for strikes. When you have the confidence that can throw two pitches for strikes, that confidence builds into a third pitch."

Hatcher doesn't consider himself a strikeout pitcher. But they're still coming in bunches for him.

"If you look at the run I've had right now, it's 1-2, 0-2 on every at bat," Hatcher said. "So you've got your foot on the gas and they don't know what you're doing. When you put the pressure on the hitter, it changes big time."

__________________

Everyone was still talking on Tuesday about Giancarlo Stanton's opposite-field line drive home run the night before. Redmond said it was the hardest ball he's ever seen hit, eclipsing a Gary Sheffield rocket off Antonio Alfonseca back in his playing days.

But perhaps no one was more impressed with it than the one person who is hardest of all to impress with his shots: Stanton himself.

"I was tring to hit a line drive to second base and even when I hit it, I was like, all right, cool, I've got an RBI and I'll be on second," said Stanton, who thought the ball would hit the wall in the corner. "And then it stayed up. That's probably the most surprising home run I've ever hit, at least in terms of the home run being the last thing on my mind for the at bat and after I hit it, I thought I got the job done."

The ball was never more than 20-25 feet above the ground at any point and maintained a relatively straight trajectory from the time it left his bat until it struck a railing and kept on going after clearing the wall. If you haven't seen it, check it out:

June 16, 2014

Andrew Heaney promoted from minors, added to rotation in tidal wave of moves

Lots happening here this afternoon, with the Marlins calling up four players from Triple A New Orleans -- Andrew Heaney foremost among them -- and completely revamped their starting rotation by getting rid of Randy Wolf and sticking Jacob Turner in the pen.

Joining Heaney in the tidal wave of call-ups were Anthony DeSclafani, Jake Marisnick and Justin Bour.

Heaney will make his long-awaited MLB debut on Thursday while DeSclafani will take the mound Tuesday in Turner's spot.

The Marlins designated both Wolf and Kevin Slowey for assignment, and Turner will now slide into Slowey's long relief role.

Want more? There's more.

The Marlins optioned Donovan Solano to Triple A, placed Christian Yelich on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain, and transferred Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the 15-day disabled list. Saltalamacchia will begin his rehab assignment tonight in Jupiter.

The big news, obviously, is the Heaney promotion. 

The former first-round draft pick is the top-ranked left-handed pitching prospect, according to MLB.com, and will begin his big league career Thursday at Marlins Park against the New York Mets.

With Monday's avalanche of transactions, the Marlins now have 10 players on their 25-man roster who were not on the Opening Day roster.

Will have more on this as it develops.....

June 15, 2014

DL a possibility for Christian Yelich; Nathan Eovaldi on paternity list; Donovan Solano relishes Colombia's World Cup win

Christian Yelich could be placed on the 15-day disabled list if his back issues don't improve within the next 24 hours. Yelich remained out of the starting lineup on Sunday for a second straight game.

"We're probably going to make a decision on him today or tomorrow," said manager Mike Redmond. "I think he feels better, but still pretty stiff. You can see by the way he's walking around. We're trying to give him as many days as we could, but we'll see. I think a lot of it was whether he would do baseball activities tomorrow and right now, it's not looking like it. We're holding out hope."

If Yelich goes on the DL, the Marlins would most likely call up Jake Marisnick, who has been swinging a hot bat at Triple A New Orleans after getting off to a slow start.

_________________

The Marlins placed Nathan Eovaldi on the paternity list Sunday and called up right-handed reliever Sam Dyson from New Orleans to fill his spot. Eovladi flew home to Texas to be with his wife for the delivery of their first child. Redmond said Eovaldi is expected back in time to make his next start on Wednesday.

Dyson recently returned from a long stint on the DL after having his jaw broken by teammate Chris Hatcher in a barroom incident last month when both were at Triple A.

"Everything's fine," Dyson said of the incident. "It was two months ago, so it's definitely in the past and we're just looking to help the team win."

With the Marlins bullpen taxed from extended use the past two games, the Marlins are in need of a fresh arm, and the timing on the Eovaldi paternity leave couldn't have worked out better.

"If we could just plan these guys' babies on when we need a fresh arm, we'd be in business," Redmond said, joking. "It does give us a fresh arm down there when we really do need it."

________________

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (15-day DL, concussion) is expected to make in his first rehab game Monday for Single A Jupiter. Redmond said he doesn't expect Saltalamacchia to play in too many games before he is recalled.

________________

Rafael Furcal didn't ask for the ball Saturday after recording his first major league hit in nearly two years. But nobody would have blamed him if he had.

"Why would I?" Furcal said. "I have nearly 2,000 hits."

Furcal singled with two outs in the ninth, keeping the Marlins' comeback hopes alive, albeit only temporarily. It snapped an 0 for 10 spell with the Marlins, and it gave him his first hit since Aug. 26, 2012.

Furcal said the hit was special to him only in the sense that it came at a time when the Marlins needed it.

"Especially in that situation," he said. "We're losing by two runs and I need to be on base."

_______________

Like so many kids growing up in Colombia, Marlins utility infielder Donovan Solano was big into soccer. He played it all the way through high school before giving it up for baseball, the sport he plays best.

"Every Colombian guy plays football," Solano said. "(Edgar) Renteria did. I did. My brother did. I had fun with it when I was a kid."

Solano watched Colombia's 3-0 opening-round victory over Greece in the Marlins clubhouse on Saturday before the Marlins took the field against the Pirates. He was especially pleased that his friend on the team, forward Teofilo Gutierrez, scored one of Colombia's goals.

"Every Colombian game I try to watch," he said. "It's like a party."

June 14, 2014

1st-round pick Tyler Kolek agrees to terms for $6 million

Tyler Kolek is about to become one of the wealthiest 18-year-olds -- if not THE wealthiest resident of any age -- in the Texas town of Shepherd. The hard-throwing right-hander, whom the Marlins selected with the second overall pick in last week's amateur draft, has agreed to terms on a $6 million bonus, sources have confirmed.

The deal is pending a physical.

The Marlins surprised some by taking Kolek over North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon, who went to the White Sox on the next pick. But the Marlins found Kolek and his triple-digit fastball too good to pass up and drafted the hurler right after Houston took high school pitcher Brady Aiken first overall.

The $6 million bonus, which was first reported by MLB.com's Jim Callis, is the third-largest ever given to a high school pitcher (behind Aiken and Jameson Taillon) but will save the Marlins, as the slot value assigned to that pick was $6.8 million.

The Marlins have also agreed with second-rund pick Justin Twine for the slot value of $1.316 million, according to Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com.

June 12, 2014

Andrew Heaney scratched from start as Marlins begin to "guard" innings

Andrew Heaney was scratched from Thursday's scheduled start with Triple A New Orleans, and it won't be the last time his turn is skipped as the Marlins take measures to preserve the lefty's arm for September.

"We decided a few weeks ago we were going to skip a start here and there (with Heaney)," said Marty Scott, the Marlins' vice president of player development. "This is the first of several. We'll probably do this again in July and one more time in August."

There has been growing speculation about when the Marlins will call up their top pitching prospect, who is continuing to dominate in the minors. But Scott said the decision to scratch Heaney from his scheduled start Thursday had nothing to do with a pending call-up.

"Don't read too much into it," he said.

Rather, Scott said the Marlins want to make sure Heaney is still available to pitch for them in September, especially if the team is still in playoff contention.

Like Jose Fernandez last season, Heaney has a prescribed innings limit of 160-170 innings this season, Scott said. He's already totaled 72 2/3 innings between Double A Jacksonville and Triple A New Orleans. The Marlins want to avoid a situation like the one involving Stephen Strasburg in 2012 when the Nationals' pitcher was shut down in early September even though the team was still in contention and reached the postseason.

Scott said Heaney has been informed of the Marlins' plans and is on board with the altered pitching schedule.

"This way, we don't have to worry about shutting him down in September," Scott said. "If we don't let him skip a couple of starts and rest up and guard these innings, we'd have to shut him down in September, and that's something we don't want to do. We don't want to have to shut him down in the middle of a pennant race."

Heaney's next scheduled start for the Zephyrs is June 19. His last previous start was June 7.

Heaney told the New Orleans Advocate in this article that he feels like he is ready to pitch in the majors, but would prefer to receive his promotion under the right conditions.

"I feel like I am (ready)," Heaney said in Thursday's article, "but I don't want to be ready to fill a spot. I want to be ready to compete and help the team win. They're in first place. I don't want them to bring me up as an experiment."

June 11, 2014

Door open for Furcal to join Marlins after team options Bour back to minors Wednesday night

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Barring a surprising move or maybe a last second hamstring or groin pull, the Marlins are finally going to get to see what Rafael Furcal looks like again.

After Wednesday’s 6-0 loss to the Rangers, the Marlins optioned first baseman Justin Bour to Triple A New Orleans clearing a spot for Furcal. They will officially announce a corresponding move Friday, manager Mike Redmond said. But it's expected to be Furcal.

Furcal, who is on the 60-day disabled list, has played in 11 minor-league games since May 29 — his latest rehab stint. He picked up two more hits Tuesday night for SingleA Jupiter, raising his average to .341 (14 for 41) with seven runs scored and four stolen bases since his latest return from hamstring and groin injuries.

Redmond said the Marlins moved Furcal back to Jupiter from Double A Jacksonville (where he played five games) for logistical reasons. But it looks a lot more like so he doesn’t have to travel very far when the Marlins finally announce he’s ready to go.

How new Marlins reliever Bryan Morris added a couple ticks to his fastball

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Recently acquired reliever Bryan Morris ended up picking up his first victory in a Marlins uniform Tuesday night by picking up four big outs between the sixth and seventh innings.

Morris, acquired from the Pirates at the beginning of the month for a 2014 draft pick, has been stellar since the Marlins got him. He's pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts, no walks and only three hits allowed.

"You always want to start off with a new team and start off well," Morris said. "It's easier to become part of the team. It's always a different situaton when you come to a new team and you don’t know the guys, so getting off to a good start helps."

A 2006 first round pick of the Dodgers who had Tommy John surgery coming out of college, Morris said he spent a lot of time in the off-season strengthening his shoulder muscles with a specially designed workout first used by tennis players and most recently Blue Jays All-Star reliever Steve Delabar.

Morris said it's helped increase his velocity "a few ticks."

"It was something to make my sholder more stable so I can throw every day," Morris said. "It's based on decelerator muscles in the back of your shoulder -- that and strengthening all the small muscle so they can help the large muscles endure some of the stress that your arm goes through while throwing.

"Last year I probably was really consistent around 94 [miles per hour]. Ive seen a lot more 95s and 96s this year. Last year I would hit 95 every now and then and 96 on occasion. Later in the year I ran it up to 97 a couple times in the playoffs. I've hit 97 a few times this year and I've hit 98 a couple times. 98 is what I used to flirt with before Tommy John in 2006."

HAPPY HOMECOMING FOR RAMOS

Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos, who grew up a Rangers fan and played for Texas Tech, had more than 150 friends and family members in the stands Tuesday night when he made his first pitching appearance in the state of Texas since getting drafted by the Marlins in 2009.

Ramos pitched a clean eighth inning of relief and struckout the first batter he faced.

"Man it was awesome," Ramos said. "If you were out here you heard how many people were out there, especially when they announced my name. It was kind of crazy. I heard it from all around the stadium."

Ramos said he as espeically happy to see his grandmother, Olga, in the stands. He said he lived across from his grandparents in Lubbock, Texas and said Olga and his late grandfather were his biggest fans growing up.

"She hadn't seen me pitch since college," Ramos said. "She’s been taking care of her dad. He’s 107 years old. It’s a 24/7 job and she doesn’t get to leave the house very often. So for her coming out here to Dallas is like a mini vacation to see me pitch."

Ramos said his father organized a group of about 94 people, who all sat in one section to cheer him on. Ramos said his mother has 11 brothers and sisters and thus he has "about 60 cousins." Most made the 5 1/2 hour trek from Lubbock to see him pitch.

"All of the 94 people in the same section were related," Ramos said. "The people in other sectoins were friends. If we were even closer to Lubbock I think the whole town would have come to the game."

YELICH SEEING RESULTS

Manager Mike Redmond said he hasn't seen a whole lot different in Christian Yelich's approach at the plate. Just better results of late.

After going hitless in four games from June 2nd to June 5th, Yelich has gone 9 for 20 with three doubles, a homer and five RBI over his last four games entering Wednesday.

"I think his approach overall has been pretty good," Redmond said. "He's hit some line drives right at guys, some ground balls. The key to him is to continue to stay within his approach. When he gets good pitches to hit he usually hits them. I think you saw that last night.

"A lot of it is confidence. Sometimes we lose sight -- even though I try to remind everyone -- this is his first full season in the big leagues. Everybody gets caught up in the numbers and the batting average. That stuff for me really doesn't matter. This is his first full go-around in the big leagues. There's a lot of pressure on him to go out and produce. But I've been very happy with what he's been able to go out there and do. He's led off all year in a position where we didn't expect him to be leading off. I think he's done a nice job. I think he's learned a lot. And I think he's continued to improve.

"And you know what he's a gamer. He's a grinder. This is going to be huge for him in the process of him becoming a great player.  He brings it everyday. He never comes into my office and asks for a day off. He wants to be out there to play. I was happy for him to go out there and put together a multi-hit game, a big game. It was fun to see him that. We needed that too."