August 19, 2010

Can Sanabia fill void in Marlins' rotation?

PITTSBURGH -- One thing the Marlins have been searching for over the last two seasons is a consistent fourth and fifth option in the rotation. With Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez strongly entrenched at the top, several young arms have auditioned for the other roles but have failed to remain consistent.

Thursday night, 21-year old Alex Sanabia showed what he could do when he's at his best, throwing two-hit ball for seven plus innings before the Pirates finally knocked him out. 

Sanabia, a former 32nd round pick, has never had overpowering stuff. His season-high for strike outs this season in Double A Jacksonville was eight. But what makes him good is that he doesn't walk many guys. His strikeout to walk ratio after Thursday's start, the fifth in the big leagues, is now 25 to 7.

Walks have been the biggest hurdles for guys like Chris Volstad, Sean West and Andrew Miller to overcome at this level.

July 12, 2010

Manuel picks Jimenez over JJ to start All-Star Game

ANAHEIM -- Although he said it was a tough pick, National League manager Charlie Manuel chose Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez over Marlins ace Josh Johnson to start Tuesday night's All-Star Game at Angel Stadium. 

"Josh Johnson is a very talented guy, we have some real talented pitchers on the National League squad. But this guy [Jimenez] is 15-1. His record speaks for itself. He threw a no-hitter and has completed three ball games. He's what I call a horse.

"So, is Josh Johnson. It was a tough pick. But [Jimenez] is a guy I chose because as soon as he came into the big leagues, he's always stood out. He's definitely my favorite pick."

Jimenez (2.20 ERA) owns the best record in baseball. But Johnson (9-3) owns the lowest ERA (1.70) and has only more than one earned run once in his last 11 starts. 

> Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who will leadoff for the NL for the third year in a row Tuesday night, said his of his strategy for tonight's Home Run Derby: "I'm going to try as hard as I can, swing as hard as I can."

Here's a short interview with Miami's own Alex Rodriguez discussing his All-Star selection.

May 12, 2010

After Cubbies, Johan Santana awaits Marlins

CHICAGO -- The Marlins will try to leave Wrigley Field this afternoon having accomplished two things they have yet to do this season: sweep an opponent and a three-game winning streak.

If there is a team the Marlins can do it against, it's the Cubs (14-20). Marlins ace Josh Johnson said before Wednesday's game he feels like the team could be on the verge of putting together a bit of a winning streak. If you remember, the Marlins started 11-1 last year before the wheels came off. After losing eight of 11 coming into this series, Johnson feels like the momentum start swinging in the other direction.

"For a couple weeks there, it felt like nothing could go right for us," Johnson said. "You had game-saving catches, big home runs. The last couple games, that has kind of gone away. Before that, we hadn't really been consistent enough as a whole team to get to the point where we could win four, five in a row. But I can definitely see us getting to the point where we could now."

To keep the good times rolling, Johnson will have to do something very few Marlins have -- beat Johan Santana on Thursday. Santana is 6-1 with a 1.66 ERA versus the Marlins in eight career starts. He beat Johnson and the Marlins on Opening Day, becoming the first of four Cy Young winners to beat the Fish this season in four tries.

"I just have to try and get deeper in the game because you know there is a 99.9 percent chance he is going to get six, seven, eight innings in," Johnson said of facing Santana. "That is just how good a pitcher he is. As an opposing starter pitcher you have to go as deep as possible and try to match him."

There aren't many Marlins who have had much success against Santana. Jorge Cantu (7 for 27), Chris Coghlan (1 for 3) and Gaby Sanchez (1 for 2) are the only Marlins who have better than .250 batting averages against him. Hanley Ramirez (.167), Cody Ross (.167), Wes Helms (.176) have just three hits against Santana lifetime. Dan Uggla is just 1 for 19.

LEROUX LEARNING THE HARD WAY... Before the season, Chris Leroux had only five games of major league seasoning coming out of the bullpen for the Marlins. But the 26-year old Canadian-born right-hander is loading up on tough experiences this year.

Tuesday night against the Cubs, he put himself in arguably the most difficult situation of the season -- and survived. With the Marlins up 3-1, Leroux gave up two hits, walked one and had the tying and winning runs standing on second and third base with Aramis Ramirez up and two outs in the eighth inning. After an eight-pitch battle, he finally got Ramirez to swing and miss at a high fastball on a 3-2 count to end the inning.

Leroux, who pumped his first as he bounced off the mound, caught some good-natured heckling from teammates after the game for celebrating like Yankees pitcher Jaba Chamberlain. He also received some compliments from catcher John Baker and manager Fredi Gonzalez for getting out of the mess.

"The other day in Washington we brought him in with first and secodn and he got a big double play to get Sanchez off the hook," Gonzalez said. "We're throwing him in situation, when he's successful, you hope he builds on tht stuf and keeps going forward.

"He's got a big arm, throws 93, 94 miles per hour with a big sinker and a nice changeup."

MAYBIN SAYS WRIST IS FINE... Outfielder Cameron Maybin found out there was a brick wall behind the ivy when he made a running catch against it Tuesday. Maybin jammed his right wrist on the play, but remained in the game. 

After Tuesday's game, he said the wrist was fine. "Nothing a little ice can't fix," Maybin said. 

Gonzalez didn't put Maybin in the lineup Wednesday, but said it wasn't because of the wrist. "As far as I know, he's fine," Gonzalez said. "The trainers didn't mention it at all this morning."

May 11, 2010

First pitch strikes key to starters success

CHICAGO -- If there was one thing new pitching coach Randy St. Claire wanted to establish with Marlins starters this season it was to have them "attack the strike zone more." Although the season might not be very old, it seems St. Claire has gotten his message across.

Entering Tuesday night's game at Wrigley, Marlins starters have not allowed more than three runs in each of their last nine starts, going 4-2 with a 3.07 ERA. If there's a reason for the success, according to St. Claire, it's the fact his guys are getting ahead in the strike zone. A look inside the numbers, supports St. Claire's philosophy.

This season, four of the Marlins five starters have thrown first pitch strikes at least at a 60 percent clip. Last season, only Josh Johnson (63) and Ricky Nolasco (61) were over 60. This season, Chris Volstad (60 percent) and Anibal Sanchez (67) have joined Johnson (62) and Nolasco (61). Nate Robertson, the Marlins' only left-hander in the starting rotation, is at 57 percent.

"They've been all doing a pretty good job getting ahead of the hitters as a group," St. Claire said. "To me, that's a key to me to be able to go deep into games. When you're ahead of hitters, they have to put the ball in play and are more aggressive with the strike zone because they have to be. You use less pitches. When your behind in the count, you're using 5-6 pitches an at-bat instead of less than three. If you're ahead of hitters you use less pitches, so you go deeper into the game."

That's been exactly the case. Last season, Marlins starters averaged 5.6 innings and 92 pitches a start. This season, they are averaging six innings and 98 pitches. In turn, they're quality starts are up from 46 percent a year ago to 59 percent (19 in 32 games) this season. Volstad and Sanchez are the two biggest examples. Volstad averaged 5.5 innings and 89 pitches per start last year and is now up to 6.6 innings and 96 pitchers per start this season. Sanchez went up from 5.4 innings and 92 pitchers to 5.9 innings and 96 per start this season.

VOLSTAD BACK IN A GROOVE... Even though his numbers are popping off the page, Volstad (3-2, 4.12 ERA) is obviously a much improved pitcher this season. Take out his one bad start in Colorado on April 25 (7 runs in 4 1/3 innings), and Volstad’s record is 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA.

The 23-year old's WHIP has dropped from 1.434 to 1.068 and opponents, who hit .278 against him last year with 29 home runs, are hitting .207 against him this season with only four homers.

"I've been using all my pitches, I think that's the biggest thing," Volstad said. "Adding that slider has been big for me. It's something else for that hitter to be thinking about... another big difference is I've just decided I just have to attack the hitters and not worry about making my stuff too nasty, hitting corners, just go right after them and let my stuff work."

Volstad said he's pumped about making his 50th career start Wednesday at Wrigley. He 0-0 with a 2.81 ERA against the Cubs all-time and has an ERA of 2.77 in two previous starts in Chicago.

"I love this place. This is baseball. Wrigley Field, it's awesome," Volstad said. "I like the atmosphere here. Hopefully, it warms up for the day game tomorrow."

The only problem with Wrigley for Volstad? Walking around the innards of the stadium. At 6-8, 232 pounds, he often has to watch his head ducking under doorways and hallways.

"I can't get too excited in the dugout either," Volstad said. "If I jump up on a hard hit ball, I'll crush my head on the [dugout overhang]. It happened to me at Fenway. These parks are pretty similar. Small clubhouse, small walkways, small overhangs. I guess pitchers weren't 6-8 back then."

May 10, 2010

Baker, Meyer happy for former A's teammate Braden

CHICAGO -- Dan Meyer was on his way to the airport Sunday night aboard a quiet Marlins team bus when his cell phone began buzzing with text messages from his friends. The first one read: "Did you hear about Dallas Braden?"

"The first thing I'm thinking is what did he say about about A-Rod now?" Meyer said.

It didn't take the Marlins reliever long before he figured out his former minor league teammate in Oakland had just pitched the 19th perfect game in major league history. Soon after, Meyer ran over to share the news with Marlins catcher John Baker, who also played with Braden in the Athletics minor league system, and the two watched video highlights of the feat on Meyer's cell phone before boarding their flight to Chicago.

"It was surreal to see," said Meyer, who played three seasons with Braden in A's farm system and was his roommate for most of those seasons on the road. "We were pretty close, hung out a lot. I know him way outside of baseball. For me it is more than a baseball thing.

"I lived with him, played golf with him and used to stay at his grandmother's house on off days, so I even know the grandmother."

Baker was equally thrilled for Braden and sent him a text message with one word "Wow."

"I couldn't be happier for the guy," said Baker, who caught Braden in several spring training games and played against him once he was traded to the Marlins.

"He's just a different character. He almost seems like he doesn't care. But he he does care -- just like you saw with the Alex Rodriguez thing. He's not afraid of star status. It takes a pitcher like that, whose not afraid, to pitch a game like that."

RESPECT FOR PERFECTION... The Marlins have never had a pitcher throw a perfect game, but have had four toss no-hitters including Anibal Sanchez.

But there is at least one Marlin who has thrown a perfect game at the professional level -- reliever Clay Hensley. He threw one for Class A Hagerstown Suns in 2003 on only 81 pitches.

"It takes a lot of luck," said Hensley, who also threw two no-hitters in college. "The stars have to be aligned for you."

May 04, 2010

Marlins had success in '09 vs. Cy Young winners

The Marlins and Giants will kickoff a three-game series tonight at Sun Life Stadium. The story line is pretty simple: Can the Marlins hit the studs San Francisco will be throwing out on the mound? 

Back-to-back Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum (4-0, 1.27 ERA) gets the ball tonight. Then, 2002 Cy Young winner Barry Zito (4-0 with a 2.35 ERA in 5 career starts versus the Marlins) pitches for San Fran on Wednesday. Matt Cain (1-1, 2.84 ERA) goes Thursday. 

The Marlins, one of the best offensive teams in the game, are going in with a confident attitude.  "I think if you get caught up with the names and the hype, it only makes it a little more difficult," Marlins catcher John Baker said. "The guy is already good enough without having to give him an enormous amount of credit... we're just going to go out and play our game."

Florida does lead baseball with a .320 average when runners are on base and hit .286 (fifth-best) when runners are in scoring position. 

"We have to find some holes," manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday. "[Anibal] Sanchez and the guys that are pitching -- [Nate] Robertson and Ricky [Nolasco] -- have to match zeroes. It's going to be a fun series. If we don't make mistakes defensively, add on runs late, we can win. It's pretty simple."

The Marlins are 0-2 this season when facing former Cy Young winners. They lost to Johan Santana in the season opener, producing just one earned run on four hits over six innings while walking twice and striking out five times. Roy Halladay then shut them down for eight innings for the Phillies on April 16th, scattering eight hits and giving up just two earned runs with four strikeouts and no walks before the Marlins mounted a late rally against Philly's bullpen and lost 8-6.

Last year, though, the Marlins actually went 6-2 the eight times they faced former Cy Young winners.  The key wasn't necessarily pounding the star pitcher, but getting to his bullpen.

Marlins '09 vs. Cy Young winners
> April 12: vs. Johan Santana, Mets lost 2-1. Santana charged with loss. 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 13 Ks, 26 ABs
> April 29: vs. Johan Santana, Mets lost 4-3. Santana was given a no decision. 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 Ks, 26 ABs
> June 5: vs. Barry Zito, Giants won 2-1. Zito earned the win. 5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 Ks, 19 ABs
> June 7: vs. Tim Lincecum, Giants won 3-2. Lincecum earned the win. 7 1/3 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 24 ABs
> June 8: vs. Randy Johnson, Giants lost 4-0. Johnson charged with loss. 5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 22 ABs
> June 9: vs. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals lost 4-3. Carpenter received ND. 6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 23 ABs
> June 12: vs. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays lost 7-3. Halladay received ND. 3 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 Ks 12 ABs
> June 21: vs. CC Sabathaia, Yankees lost 6-5. Sabathia received ND. 1 1/3 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 7 ABs

HENSLEY RETURNS; WOOD SENT DOWN: Manager Fredi Gonzalez said it was "a tough decision" sending reliever Tim Wood down to Triple A New Orleans on Tuesday to make room for Clay Hensley, who was reinstated from the bereavement list. 

Hensley left the team Friday after learning his father had died. With services still not set and authorities still trying to determine his cause of death, Hensley said he remained in town.

“We kind of lost touch over the last couple of years,” Hensley of his father, who was 60 and died in Jacksonville, Texas. "We spoke over the holidays and stuff. We didn't spend a lot of time together the last couple years. I was on the West Coast and he was in Texas. It's difficult no matter what. Being a new dad now, it hits a little closer."

Hensley threw three scoreless innings in relief, striking out seven, on Friday before learning about his father’s death. He has struck out 13 over five innings in his last two outings.

“I think I’ll feel better playing,” he said. “Sitting around the house, it’s probably just a little better for me to be here.”

Left-hander Hunter Jones of Palm Beach Gardens was called up when Hensley left the team Friday. He threw walked the only batter he faced Sunday on four pitches before Gonzalez removed him from the game. Gonzalez said he thought Jones, who was 0-1 with a 3.22 ERA in four starts in Triple A, was a little too amped up.

“We feel like we need to get that left-handed situation in the bullpen [settled]," Gonzalez said. "I like to carry two guys. We want to give Hunter Jones the opportunity to be that second guy until Danny [Meyer] comes back. That's the thing about opportunities. You get one, you don't want it to get it to waste.”

Meyer, who has been on the disabled list with a left calf strain since April 26, has pitched two scoreless innings in Single A Jupiter during his rehab assignment. He has four strikeouts and one walk in two games. He was 0-1 with a 16.20 ERA with four walks and two strikeouts in six games with the Marlins before he was placed on the disabled list.

TASED AND CONFUSED:  In case you missed it, a Philadelphia police officer Tasered a 17-year old high school senior during Monday night's Phillies game when the boy ran onto the field and proved hard to catch.

The Marlins, who were off Monday, saw the highlights of the chase and most had no problem with the way security reacted.

"What if you're at a really nice restaurant and somebody came in knocking plates over and causing a big scene? Police would show up and I think the same thing would happen," catcher John Baker said.

"It's not a difficult set of rules to follow. They're the kind of rules you learn when your a little kid. When somebody says don't run on the field, don't run on the field. When somebody says don't cuss in front of a little kid, don't cuss in front of a little kid. I know they have some problems in Philadelphia because they have rowdy fans. Well, don't throw up on a police officer on purpose. These are not difficult rules to follow. If you break the rules, there are going to be consequences and that's what we learned here. Somebody broke the rules and the police responded with how they felt was appropriate."

April 27, 2010

Barden's catch saved JJ's complete game

Brian Barden hasn't had many opportunities to swing a bat this season. Then again, it wasn't his offense that earned him a spot on the Marlins roster this season.

Brian Barden It's his defense manager Fredi Gonzalez and bench coach Carlos Tosca have long admired. And it's what was Gonzalez was praising yet again Tuesday, a day after the 29-year old defensive specialist helped Josh Johnson finish off the fourth complete game of his career. 

If not for Barden's diving catch down the third base line and powerful throw to first to get Oscar Salazar for the second out in the ninth, Gonzalez said he likely would have pulled Johnson who finished Monday's game with 117 pitches. Instead, Johnson remained in and struck out Chase Headley looking to set a new career-high for strikeouts (12) in a game. 

"As soon as JJ went out in the ninth, [Brian Sanches] got up [in the bullpen. We weren't going to extend [Johnson] anything," Gonzalez said. "I hope JJ takes him out to dinner, buy him a burger, something."

Barden earned the No. 1 WebGem on ESPN's Baseball Tonight show for his defensive play. "

"I remember the ball being halfway to me and then it was in my glove," said Barden, who extended his body fully to his right to glove the ball on a hard, quick hop. "I was just glad I could help JJ, be a part of his complete game."

Barden said Johnson gave him a smile after the out. He's not expecting anything more from the Marlins ace, who also produced three hits and three RBI in Monday's 10-1 win.

"I'm jealous," Barden said. "He has three more hits than I do."

ROBERTSON READY TO GO ON THREE DAYS REST: Nate Robertson doesn't have a ton of experience pitching on three days rest. But he has more than Ricky Nolasco does.

That's why the 32-year old left-hander -- who along with Nolasco pitched in Saturday's double-header in Colorado -- will get the ball Wednesday when the Marlins close out their three-game series against the Padres. Robertson has done it once in his career. Nolasco still hasn't.

The good news for the Marlins? Robertson won. He pitched five innings, scattering three hits and giving up two earned runs with three walks and seven strikeouts in a 5-3 win over the Blue Jays for the Detroit Tigers on April 14, 2004.

"I'm not looking for him to go out, give me nine innings," Gonzalez said. "He's gives us 6 or 7 [innings], that's good. He'll get an extra day the following time around like everybody else. "

Robertson only threw 84 pitches and four innings in Saturday's 8-1, Game 2 loss to the Rockies. He gave up five hits, five earned runs and walked four in the loss. 

MORRISON HAS MRI ON SHOULDER: Highly-touted prospect and Triple A first baseman Logan Morrison had an MRI Tuesday on his injured left shoulder. Jim Fleming, the Marlins Vice President for Player Development and Scouting, said the results would likely not be known until Wednesday.

Morrison, who struggled this spring and lost the battle for the starting first base job to Gaby Sanchez, suffered the injury during a collision at first base on April 19th and is one the seven-day disabled list. He is hitting .300 with 10 RBI in 12 games.

ROSS SCRATCHED: Outfielder Cody Ross was scratched from Tuesday's lineup with flu-like symptoms. He was replaced in right field by Brett Carroll, who moved into the eighth slot in the batting order. First baseman Gaby Sanchez moved up from eighth to seventh. Ross went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI Monday night. 

April 26, 2010

Gaby Sanchez among top rookies early

He hasn't created the kind of buzz Jason Heyward has in Atlanta. But when you stack Gaby Sanchez's numbers against the rest of the rookies in baseball after three weeks, the Marlins young first baseman is definitely worthy of recognition. 

Gaby Sanchez Sanchez, among a dozen everyday playing rookies in the game early on this season, ranks fourth in batting average (.281) and runs (8), second to Heyward in RBI (9) and leads all first-year players in doubles (7). Not bad for a guy who hit third or fourth nearly his entire life and has had to bat in the eighth hole for the Marlins in 40 of his 57 at-bats this season.

"It has been an adjustment, but only because you have the pitcher hitting behind you," Sanchez said. "When you're up there with one out, two outs, you're the guy they want to swing the bat, to try and create a run or something."

Sanchez, who had 29 major league career at-bats between 2008 and 2009, said he's been extra patient at the plate trying to study pitchers he's never faced before. It's resulted in him taking nine walks (2nd most on the team) and accumulating a .388 on base percentage (third highest on the team).

"Every single outing, I'm seeing a new pitcher for the first time," Sanchez said. "I'm having to take pitches, sliders, change ups to see their movement, depth. I feel like once I get back to facing them again and again it will be a little bit different."

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he's been impressed with how Sanchez has not only hit, but the way he's played defense. Sanchez has only been credited with one error this season and has done a good job handling throws that often pull him off the bag. 

"I feel like defense has been going very well for me," Sanchez said. "I've been learning the guys throws, what their ball typically does when they throw it and what side they like to throw to. Once it becomes second nature, it will be easier for me on backhand plays."

SANCHES RETURNS, MEYER HEADS TO DL: Brian Sanches provided a huge lift to the Marlins bullpen last season when he was called up from Triple A New Orleans. Now that he's finally over a strained right hamstring injury, the 31-year old right-hander is hoping he can do the same soon.

Sanches was activated from the disabled list Monday and inserted into a pen which ranks 22nd in ERA (4.91) and has struggled at times to defend leads late in games. The Marlins have given up 36 of their 92 runs from the seventh inning on and blown four save opportunities in 10 tries. 

Sanches, who spent 11 seasons in the minors before finally breaking through last season, began 2009 with 25 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings at home, the third longest streak in club history. He was 4-2 with a 2.56 ERA and threw two more innings 10 times in 47 appearances.

"I definitely missed being with the guys, competing with them, the camaraderie," said Sanches, who strained his hamstring in the next-to-last exhibition game of the spring. "I'm not looking at myself as a savior. I just want to be a piece of the puzzle. That's what I'm going to go in there and do, fill my spot. Hopefully, everything kind of molds around me."

The Marlins placed left-handed reliever Dan Meyer (0-1, 16.20 ERA, 6 games) on the disabled list with a strained left calf, retroactive to Sunday. Meyer said he strained his calf against the Reds on April 13th, before the Marlins went on a nine-game road trip. He said the injury had nothing to do with his struggles, though. He's given up six earned runs and 10 hits with three walks over two innings in his last three appearances.

"I'm not heloing the team out there trying to fight through it," Meyer said. "I wouldn't say anything is too serious. I just have to do what's good for the team, try and stay healthy and not try to work it too much."

COGHLAN FEELING BETTER AT THE PLATE: Chris Coghlan's struggles this season have been well documented. But the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year said he feels like he's close to breaking out of his 10-for-65 slump (.154) to start the season.

In his last two games, Coghlan has gone 3 for 8 and hit several balls hard enough to convince manager Fredi Gonzalez that the end is near. "When you only have 60 plate apperances, all you need is a 5 for 12 week and you're back up to .290 or .300," Gonzalez said. "I'm seeing signs."

"I feel great," Coghlan said. "I couldn't have said that when we played L.A. here," Coghlan said. "I was just missing pitches, striking out more, swinging at pitches out of the zone. I don't feel like that now at all. I feel normal."

Coghlan lost his job as the Marlins leadoff hitter in part because of his struggles, but also the consistent play and speed of Cameron Maybin. Coghlan said it doesn't matter in his eyes if he is batting first or second.

"When you're at the top of the lineup, you're a table setter," Coghlan said. "That's our job. Whether Cameron Is hitting first or I'm hitting first, our job is to be table setters, get on base for Hanley [Ramirez], Jorge [Cantu] or [Dan Uggla], score runs. It doesn't matter if it's leadoff or two hole. Whatever helps the team, that's what I want to do."

> Marlins top prospect Mike Stanton had yet another breakout performance for Double A Jacksonville on Monday. The 20-year old outfielder slugged three home runs and drove in seven runs in a win over the Carolina Mudcats.

Over his last two games, Stanton has hit five home runs and driven in 11 runs, raising his batting average from .263 to .338. He now has a minor-league leading nine homers and 20 RBI, tied for third-most. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez was well aware of those stats. He informed reporters of Stanton's two-day totals as they walked into the clubhouse.

"Five homers, 11 RBI in two games," Ramirez said. "Amazing."

April 18, 2010

Phillies believe Marlins "can be a threat"

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Phillies might be everybody's pick to repeat as National League Champions. But after losing two of three to the Marlins and five straight series to the Fish at Citizens Bank Park, the Marlins can move onto Houston knowing they've gotten the Phillies attention.

Burke Badenhop I didn't get a chance to head into the Phillies' locker room after Sunday's game, but came across some interesting quotes courtesy of the Philadelphia Daily News tonight.

"I think the team that you saw out here today is young, and the last two years they started to get a lot of confidence and experience," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "If they're pitching holds up, they definitely can be a threat."

The Marlins showed the Phillies they could pitch this weekend. If not for Jayson Werth's two-out, solo home run in the ninth Saturday, Ricky Nolasco and his Sunday cohorts (Nate Robertson, Burke Badenhop and Leo Nunez) would have combined to shutout the best hitting team in baseball twice in a span of 24 hours. Instead, they left having allowed just one run in 18 innings to a club that came into Saturday leading baseball in batting average (.315), runs (77), RBI (76) and slugging percentage.

The Marlins used to be an organization rich with pitching and defense. But the last couple years have been rough to say the least. Even after these last two games, the Marlins team ERA (4.16) ranks 16th in baseball, the 52 walks allowed rank 9th and the 15 errors (Hanley Ramirez had one Sunday) rank No. 1 in the game. If the Marlins can get Nolasco and Josh Johnson to pitch to their abilities consistently and have Chris Volstad, Robertson and Anibal Sanchez provide adequate starts, the Fish definitely have the offense to be a legitimate contender.

As it stands after two weeks, they're hitting .275 (8th in baseball) as a team. They've produced 68 runs (6th best) and produced 67 RBI (2nd to the Phillies) despite striking out 102 times (4th most). With a little bit of improvement on defense and pitching, who knows how good this team could really be.

Dan Uggla HIS NAME IS DAN UGGLA!: I'm pretty sure nobody in Las Vegas put money on Dan Uggla being the team's leader in batting average among starters after two weeks. But that's exactly where the second baseman is after today.

His third three-plus hit game of the season raised his average to .346. He's also tied with Jorge Cantu for the team lead in homers (3) and ranks second to Cantu on the team with 9 RBI. Uggla is a career .259 hitter, who hit a career-low .243 last season. His career average in April was is .236. But if he can keep it up and finish above .300 for the month, it will be the first time that's happened for him since May 2008 when he hit .347.

"I'm definitely not going to complain," Uggla said after he homered and drove in both runs in Sunday's win ""I'm not going to get too high or think about it and or get too happy about it because I know this game is a crazy game. I'm just gonna try to keep it simple and battle."

IS THE HOPPER THE NEW GO-TO GUY IN THE PEN?: Leo Nunez is the closer. But Burke Badenhop is the Marlins new Mr. Reliable. 

Sunday, when manager Fredi Gonzalez took Robertson out of the game with runners on first and second and only one out in the seventh, he handed the ball to a guy who used to be just the long relief pitcher last year. Badenhop didn't disappoint. He retired Placido Polanco and then got Chase Utley, a player with a .333 average against him, to fly out to the warning track in right to end the seventh inning.

With Renyel Pinto warming up in the pen, even Badenhop thought Gonzalez was going to replace him with the lefty after he got Polanco out. But to Gonzalez's credit, he stayed with Badenhop, who later retired Ryan Howard (who was 3 for 5 against him), Jayson Werth and Ben Francisco without a hiccup in the eighth. 

Badenhop was Gonzalez's man on Wednesday too if you remember. He picked up his first save with two scoreless innings against the Reds. Although he was the losing pitcher in Monday's game, Badenhop's numbers have been wicked good this season. His ERA is 0.93 (1 ER in 9 2/3 innings) and opponents are only 3 for 29 against him (.103).

"You expect good things and you go out there and you want to pitch," Badenhop said. "This is the first time I've really experienced that in terms of coming out of the pen. In the minor leagues [when I was] starting, I built confidence from start to start. This is the first time in the bullpen, I've felt like that."

COGHLAN PLAYING GREAT DEFENSE: Chris Coghlan's slump is not over and neither is his desire to keep making amazing catches. Sunday, he made two. First, he made a running catch against the railing in left field to end the second with the bases loaded. Then, he tumbled to the ground making another catch in foul ground later in the game.

"I know he ain't swinging the bat," Gonzalez said. But he has the mentality right now that if he's not going to get a hit, nobody is going to get one either. Good for him. He's plugging away."

April 11, 2010

Short Hops with Burke Badenhop

The first thing Marlins relief pitcher Burke Badenhop told me when he agreed to talk about his life outside of baseball during spring training was, "You're going to find out that I'm not really that interesting."

Burke Badenhop The 6-5, 220-pound, 27-year old right-hander might be more of a dork than Joe Cool, but he's proving to be invaluable again in a struggling Marlins bullpen -- at least early on. In the 17 innings Marlins relievers have been serviced out of the pen, Badenhop has provided five scoreless innings. His teammates have combined to give up 13 runs in the other 12 innings.

But talking baseball isn't what this blog is about. It's about getting you closer to the The Hopper, who has agreed to provide his thoughts on off beat stuff throughout the season. Although his bio says he was born in Atlanta, Badenhop said he considers himself from Perrysburg, Ohio, which also produced former Marlins World Series winning manager Jim Leyland

"It's right outside of Toledo, which of course is the glass city and an hour south of Detroit," explains Badenhop, who graduated from Bowling Green with a degree in economics and is smarter than your average baseball player. "The thing is, though, I didn't really grow up in Perrysburg. I grew up in Greensboro, N.C. and my favorite thing to do growing up was playing Little League Baseball. I played basketball all the way through high school. I could have played for D-2 or D-3 schools, but I was already signed to play baseball."

Badenhop can ramble a bit. And, take ribbing from his teammates in stride. During this interview, catcher John Baker takes a shot at Badenhop when he rambles on about what he used to do as a kid. "What about playing with Barbies?" Baker shouts.

McLovin The Hopper informs his catcher he never played with Barbies, but admits to me he does look a little little like Superbad's McLovin. Last year, a photo of the famed movie character dancing with a girl at a party (THE ONE TO THE LEFT) was placed on Badenhop's locker in the Marlins clubhouse, a gift from Marlins video man Cullen McRae.

"I don't know if I look like him as much as maybe I'm an unassuming guy who can't find his rhythm," Badenhop said. "But I'd say I'm one of the geekier personas on the team. So, that's why."

Any McLovin moments growing up? "Stealing beer and things like that?," Badenhop asks. "I don't know if this is good enough. I kind of move at a slow pace in terms of getting ready. I'm usually the last one out the door-type thing. I'm not good when I'm rushed. I was at a basketball camp when I was younger and one of the days they let us swim. Well, when my mom came to pick me up my shoes were on the wrong feet and my pants were on backwards. I didn't even know it. I was like seven."

Badenhop, by the way, loves Superbad. He's alternative music fan who listens to XM Radio Channel 46 for the Counting Crows and Blink 182. He's also a huge Duke basketball fan and was thrilled to watch them win the national title last week.

"A lot of people dog me for this, but I could watch Superbad anytime," Badenhop said "I really could. In terms of serious movies, I like a Shawshank Redemption. Baseball movies, you can't go wrong with Major League over Bull Durham. Just because the one-liners in it are unbelievable.

Any Major League movie characters in this clubhouse? "I might be one," he said. "[Renyel] Pinto would absolutely be. He'd be himself. There's no Rick Vaughn here. [Former closer] Matt Lindstrom could have been him. There's no Roger Dorn either. I could be Nuke Laloosh [from Bull Durham]. Yeah, I'm still trying to find it."

Badenhop, by the way, will not be available to pitch Sunday. But he will be on Monday.