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.

March 25, 2010

Important starts for Volstad, Hensley loom

FORT MYERS -- With only eight Grapefruit League games left and time winding down this spring, manager Fredi Gonzalez said Thursday morning he'd like to have the two remaining openings in his starting rotation "cleared up" by the end of the week. 

Chris Volstad That means Thursday's start against the Red Sox for Chris Volstad will be huge. If he pitches well, Volstad will probably cement a spot in the rotation. But if he struggles again, he could open the door for a few others. 

The 23-year old right-hander pitched well in his last start against the Nationals Saturday, walking two, scattering six hits and giving up just one earned run over five innings. But one good start out of five won't make Gonzalez or anybody in management feel good heading into the season. 

"He just needs to continue to do what he did against Washington and that's throw his sinker down in the strikezone and stick with that pitch," catcher John Baker said Wednesday. "That's what he did in 2008 when he got into trouble. He threw the ball in the middle of the plate and looked for ground balls. He needs to do the same thing, trust himself and trust his ability. If he does that, he's going to throw five innings and give up one run like he did the other day."

Rick VandenHurk is scheduled to "piggy-back" Volstad for a couple innings Thursday and at this point is likely third among the four players still competing for the final two spots in the rotation. Right-hander Clay Hensley, most believe, is currently in second when you consider he and not left-hander Andrew Miller will get the start Saturday in the big league game against the Cardinals in Jupiter.

Hensley hasn't given up an earned run or walked anybody in 10 1/3 innings and has retired 32 of the 37 batters faced. But he hasn't started either. Miller (1-1, 7.04 ERA) will start the Triple A game Saturday on the backfields at Roger Dean Stadium.

> ROSS STILL NOT READY: When outfielder Cody Ross left Tuesday's game against the Orioles with cramps in his right calf, Gonzalez didn't expect him to miss much time at all. But as it turns out, Ross still isn't even running. Ross said he's simply being cautious and he would be in the lineup if it was the regular season. But considering he's missed time because of a jammed thumb and a groin strain, he said he's considering asking for a few at-bats in Triple A. Ross is 4 for 22 this spring (.182). 

"I definitely need to get out there and I need to play," Ross said. "It's frustrating these little nagging things. These are things if it was the season, I'd be out there. But I don't want to keep aggravating it. So, we're being cautious."

> CARROLL INJURY UPDATE: Outfielder Brett Carroll, who left Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Twins with a strained left oblique, said he woke up Thursday feeling better than he was expecting. At this point, Gonzalez is guessing Carroll will be out at least a week. 

The timing obviously couldn't be worse for Carroll considering he was trying to compete with Brian Barden, Donnie Murphy and Mike Lamb for the final spots on the bench. "I just want to take the right steps," Carroll said. "As eager as I am to put it behind me and get back out there because I know it's an important time, I have to be patient with it."

March 15, 2010

Wild West sent down; Ceda heads to Double A

JUPITER -- The battle for the final two spots in the Marlins rotation now has one fewer competitor. 

Sean WestLeft-hander Sean West, who shined at times last season as a rookie, was optioned by the club to Triple A New Orleans Monday morning after he struggled through the first two weeks of the spring with control issues. West, 23, was 8-6 with a 4.79 ERA last season. 

Officially, he was 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA, three walks and one strikeout in one start in the spring. Unofficially, he was a little worse than that. On Saturday, in a 'B game' played in Sarasota against the Orioles, a wild West walked seven in 1 2/3 innings. 

"[We want West to] just pitch and get his command down," manager Fredi Gonzalez said Monday morning. "He came up and won eight games as a young pitcher last year. He will be back -- there's no question in my mind. He's going to be a big part of our rotation. Sometimes, young kids put stuff on themselves. He can get it worked out again and help us out."

West's departure leaves Andrew Miller as the only left-hander who could potentially earn a spot in the rotation.

Monday, Gonzalez talked to reporters as if he was already including Anibal Sanchez with Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco as locks to be in the rotation. Sanchez, who had been struggling a little early in camp, pitched four scoreless innings against the Mets Sunday.

That leaves Miller, Rick VandenHurk, Chris Volstad and Hayden Penn battling for the final two spots. Clay Hensley, who pitched in Triple A for the Astros last season, is a long shot, but has been impressive early in camp with six scoreless innings (5 Ks, 1 BB). Gonzalez said recently that Penn, who is out of options, could make the team as a long relief pitcher/sixth starter. 

> The Marlins also optioned relief pitcher Jose Ceda, signed in the offseason to a minor league contract, to Double A Jacksonville. Ceda was wild in his only out of the spring, hitting two batters, and giving up an earned run on two hits.

> Gonzalez said "running the bases will be the last hurdle" for outfielder Cameron Maybin (groin) before he possibly returns this weekend. Maybin will run from first to third on Tuesday. Catcher John Baker (strained forearm) will "throw to the bases " Thursday and could catch for the first time this spring this weekend. Baker could get a few pinch-hit opportunities during the week as well.

"We still have some time left, the biggest thing we want to know [regarding Maybin] are the at-bats," Gonzalez said. "As soon as we get those minor league games going, we can get him all the minor league at-bats we want." 

March 09, 2010

Fredi Gonzalez unhappy with walks

JUPITER -- Seth McClung knew he had the type of outing Monday that could tarnish not just a season, but a career. In just his second appearence of the spring, the 29-year old right-hander gave up six earned runs, three walks, plunked a batter and surrendered as many hits (2) as he got outs before being pulled in the Marlins 11-2 loss to the Mets.

Seth McClung"Man, I sucked today," McClung said Monday. "As a competitor, you want to beat yourself up. But knowing that a spring training process is 30 days long and you got to get yourself ready, you have to look at it in a different aspect. Although everybody wants to win a game, you aren't really ready yet to do some of the things you want to do.

"The best thing about spring is you take it, you say OK this is what I need to improve upon and then tomorrow is another day. I know I want to make an impression here in camp and the impression I want to make is I'm a professional."

McClung, one of four relievers with major league experience that the Marlins signed to minor league contracts in the offseason, is going to want to make sure his next appearance is a lot better. Ditto for other guys battling control issues.

Tuesday, manager Fredi Gonzalez voiced his displeasure about the amount of walks Marlins pitchers have been dishing out through six spring games. 

"I think the only time we haven't been good [this spring] is when we've walked people as a pitching staff," Gonzalez said. "You look at the bad games we've had and look at the boxscores, its been seven, eight walks, two hit batters. Usually those type of numbers cause bad games. I don't care if its the first day of spring training or the second game of spring training, we really don't want to do that."

The Marlins certainly had trouble with walks in 2009. The team gave up 267, second most in the National League. McClung, who has a 32.40 ERA this spring, isn't the only Marlins pitcher to struggle with control. Jose Ceda hit two batters in his only spring appearance. Starters Sean West and Andrew Miller had their issues in their first appearances on Sunday with a combined five walks. Reliever Derrick Turnbow, who has yet to make an appearance this spring, was having his own control issues during workouts because of an infected toe and sore shoulder.

> A FEW MORE TIDBITS... Turnbow threw a side this morning. No word yet on how it went... Outfielders Cody Ross and Cameron Maybin, both battling sore groins, played catch this morning. Gonzalez said the injuries appear to be more of a "four to five day thing" instead of a "four to six week" thing... Catcher John Baker (strained right forearm) hit some balls off a tee Monday and will play catch on Wednesday.

March 08, 2010

Marlins' Tucker battling Raynaud's Syndrome

JUPITER -- Former first round pick Ryan Tucker made his first start of the Grapefruit League season Monday afternoon against the Mets at Roger Dean Stadium. He pitched two innings, gave up two hits, one earned run and walked three batters. 

Then, before the game was even over, he dropped a bit of a stunner back in the team clubhouse when he told reporters he is battling Raynaud's disease, a rare condition that causes his hands to feel numb in response to cold conditions or stress.

Ryan TuckerThe 23-year old right-hander, who had a taste of the big leagues in 2008 with the Marlins when he made 13 appearances and six starts, said the Marlins have known about his condition for some time and are simply hoping he can beat it. 

"I have quite an issue when it comes to the cold," said Tucker, who pitched in 72 degree temperatures Monday, but who admits he's struggled in camp the past week when temperatures dipped into the 40s and 50s.

"I can't get my hands warm ever. If you notice, I'm blowing on them all the time. I make sure with the umpire is OK with it. It's a tough issue for me. It's really difficult to grab the ball and throw it and not feel like I'm going to throw it at the guy in the box."

Tucker, who is a longshot to make the Opening Day roster anyway, hardly pitched in 2009 despite beginning the season as the No. 1 starter in Triple A New Orleans. He underwent quad surgery early in the season and later dealt with an oblique injury. He didn't really begin throwing again until this winter, a few months after becoming a father of twin girls.

The 6-1, 205-pounder went 2-3 with a 8.27 ERA in 2008 with the Marlins. He said his only expectations coming into the spring were to "come in and get work." Tucker said he carries hot packs with him everywhere he goes to try and deal with losing sensation in his fingers. But sometimes, he says, nothing works. 

"It's a syndrome that just comes and goes for one in every 100,000 people," Tucker said. "It's a pretty crappy feeling. I didn't realize I had it until a few years ago when I was playing in a cold place in Carolina. It would just go cold on me, numb. I couldn't feel the ball in my fingers. It feels like there's knives in there."

Tucker said its all a result of not getting enough blood flow to his extremities. "It's just something I have to figure out," he said. "There's nothing that fixes it. It's not like I can go to the doctor and they're going to go here's a pill, here's a surgery. That's not going to happen. It's a mental thing I have to figure out."

February 25, 2010

Josh Johnson impressive in first BP session

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez made his way camp Thursday watching several pitchers toss batting practice for the first time this spring. He saw reliever Tim Wood throw, closer Leo Nunez, Andrew Miller and right-handers Hayden Penn and Rick VandenHurk. 

Josh Johnson  "When I go around, the only thing I want to see is guys throw the ball over the plate," Gonzalez said. "Penn and Vandy threw the ball well. Andrew Miller threw the ball fine."

Gonzalez didn't bother to stop and watch All-Star Josh Johnson throw. But if he needs a quick scouting report on his Opening Day starter, he needs to only ask Wes Helms or catcher John Baker. Both were more than impressed with Johnson, who signed a four-year, $39 million extension this offseason.

"It was JJ's first live BP and I can tell you he is at where most normal pitchers are at midseason," Helms said. "He's just one of those guys who has a gift. He's a freak of nature. He's the Hanley [Ramirez] of pitchers. He looked really good today. His ball was moving really good, exploding. His change up did too. He's keeping it down."

Johnson threw only a combined 30 pitches to Helms, Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan and first baseman Logan Morrison, but was able to mix in several changeups, a pitch he began tweaking last year after meeting with Giants starter and friend Matt Cain.

Baker, who caught JJ's session, said the biggest challenge Johnson faces is bring the speed of his changeup down. He said the plan is for Johnson to work on that plenty in spring training. " When you throw 97 miles per hour, you're in a scary spot when it come to the changeup," Baker said. "If you throw it 88, 89, they may hit it and think its a fastball. If he throws his changeup 84-85, I'll be happy."

> STIRRING SPEECH: New first base coach Dave Collins gave such an uplifting speech before the Marlins first full-team workout Wednesday it left Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria raving. So what did Collins say? Apparently enough to give 23-year old right hander Ryan Tucker chills.

"It was a good speech, motivating," said Tucker, who is trying to rebound from a tough season in which had quad tendon surgery and an oblique tear. 

"It was basically about just to go out there and give it your best because you don't know how long you opportunity is going to last. For me, after having a pretty long off season (his wife gave birth to twins) just hearing that solidified it for me. You really don't know how long you can be out here for. You have to take advantage of it. [My kids are] why I pretty much changed my attitude around. I'll admit, I really wasn't as dedicated at times as I needed to be. Now, I'm ready to give that effort. You don't know how long your going to be here as a person. How long this game is going to be around. I'm appreciative."

> Gonzalez said Ricky Nolasco will start in the Marlins first exhibition game next Wednesday against the University of Miami. 

August 22, 2009

Anibal's return could be boost Marlins need

Anibal Sanchez's return to the Marlins' rotation Friday night turned out be even better than what manager Fredi Gonzalez was hoping for. Gonzalez set a goal for Sanchez to reach 100 pitches and last between five to seven innings.

Anibal Sanchez could be the key to the Marlins playoff hopes down the stretch. Sanchez gave up one earned run on 82 pitches and took a no-hitter into the sixth, striking out seven and retiring 14 in a row at one point after giving up two first-inning walks. He would have pitched longer, according to Gonzalez, if not for the long layoff between innings (the Marlins scored four runs in the seventh, and a local singer took a little long singing God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch).

‘‘The thing that was really nice to watch was he added and subtracted on his fastball," Gonzalez said. ‘‘A couple times he'd [throw] 94 [miles per hour], then he would back off and hit 91. He threw his breaking pitches for strikes. His command was good. He challenged hitters. For me, he has to have confidence now his arm is going to hold up."

The Marlins' rotation could certainly use a boost. Florida starters rank 19th in baseball in ERA (4.60) and have thrown just 692-2/3 innings after Friday -- 24th fewest in the league.

‘He's going to be the most rested guy in the rotation," Gonzalez said. "Everybody is over 100 plus innings and he's going to be the freshest guy. He's absolutely a plus for us."

How big a plus? Pitching coach Mark Wiley said Sanchez could be as big a boost as Josh Beckett was to the Marlins in 2003. Beckett missed two months (May, June) and turned out to be the Marlins best pitcher in the playoffs because he was fresh at the end of the season.

"Every team would like to have a fresh arm at the end of the season," Wiley said. "Sometimes, teams will bring up a guy from the minor leagues that hasn’t pitched that much and he’ll give a team a boost, a guy on the disabled list will come back and give you a boost. That happened her in 2003 with Beckett. He was out for over a month and came back and throughout the playoffs and World Series he had the strongest arm in baseball because he had a month and a half off. There is always that possibility when you get a fresh arm that it can really help you. After what I saw last night, I’m hoping he can stay there and he can move on and he can be a major part of what we’re trying to do."

Here's what Wiley said he liked in Sanchez's start: "I think he showed the kind of arm strength he needs not only for his fastball, but for his other pitches to be able to duplicate them and be aggressive with him. I think his overall strength, not only helps his fastball but it shows up in his changeup and his breaking ball. He’s able to maintain his arm slot and release point is more consistent when he has that strength. That’s what he showed last night."

July 29, 2009

Andrew Miller gets hurt after another poor outing

    According to Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, pitcher Andrew Miller rolled his right ankle Wednesday afternoon during his second minor league start with Triple-A New Orleans.

     Gonzalez said the play happened while Miller was chasing down a bunt down one of the base lines. Prior to the injury, however, Miller had another poor outing.

In one inning, Miller gave up four earned runs, while walking two and hitting a batter. In two starts, Miller has now gone 0-2 with 10 earned runs and 11 walks, six hits and eight strikeouts.

The development raises the question of who will be the Marlins' 5th starter for the near future? And do they now feel added urgency to make a trade for a starting pitcher?

There's of course Sean West, who pitched will earlier this season, but he may not be ready. Anibal Sanchez needs more time to recover. And even if Burke Badenhop starts Saturday, is he ready to be a part of the rotation?

Gonzalez said the team is having discussions on ways to improve the team, but did not elaborate. And he has yet to officially name a starter for Saturday's game against the Cubs, which is a day after the MLB trade deadline.

Here is tonight's lineup for the Marlins: 1. Coghlan lf; 2. Bonifacio 3b; 3. Ramirez ss; 4. Cantu 3b; 5. Hermida rf; 6. Uggla 2b; 7. Ross cf; 8. Baker c; 9. Johnson p.

June 20, 2009

A-Rod will return Sunday says Girardi

Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Alex Rodriguez will play his first regular season game in front of his hometown Sunday as planned.

Manager Joe Girardi addressed A-Rod's absence from the lineup for the first two games of the series again Saturday and reiterated it was fatigue the reason he was benched.

"I think he understood and knew this is what was best for him," Girardi said. ‘‘Everything is always [blown up] when it comes Alex. We talked to him yesterday about how he has to tell us if he's fatigued. If he's not going to tell us he is, than I'll make the decision for him."

Teammate Johnny Damon said it was probably a good thing Rodriguez missed the first two games of the series against the Marlins. "Alex has been struggling. He's not at full strength," Damon said. "This is his spring training. One day doesn't always do it. Maybe he can even take Sunday off and then we're off on Monday and he can get four days off. It depends on how we're playing. Joe Girardi is a great baseball man. He understands slumps. In the long run this will be better for our team."

WEST HAS BEEN HURTING: Sean West had a tough outing Friday night against the Yankees, giving up a career- high 10 hits and five earned runs in the shorting outing of his career (four innings).

But West's second career loss was not nearly as difficult for him to deal with than his previous start against the Blue Jays on June 10th. That day, a funeral was taking place for his 70-year old grandmother, Mimi, back home in Louisiana.

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said he asked West if he wanted to skip the start and head home, but the 23-year old rookie refused, telling Gonzalez "my grandmother would have wanted me to pitch." West did and beat the Blue Jays, pitching 5-2/3 innings and giving up four earned runs to pick up his second win.

"He handled it great," Gonzalez said. "People talk about the Yankees and this kind of stuff. How much more difficult is to pitch and compete and win when something like that happens with your family?"

West said his grandmother had been immobilized for nearly six years after a stroke. "I don't want people to make a big deal about it," West said. "I know she's in a better place now."

SANCHES ROLLING: The Marlins have put together one of baseball's better bullpens this season with a collection of pitchers plucked from the recycling bin.

Right-hander Brian Sanches has quietly become another example since being called up from Triple A New Orleans on May 18. The 30-year old has made 13 appearances and given up just one earned run -- a home run to Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury earlier this week -- in 15 innings.

Before this season, Sanches had a career 6.12 ERA in 40 major league games.

Saturday, Gonzalez called Sanches ‘a tremendous find.'

"I'm just trying to stay aggressive in the strike zone, stay aggressive toward the hitters," said Sanches, who said a developed cutter has made a big difference for him.‘‘If I get beat, I get beat being aggressive. My past appearances us here I've got into trouble being too fine with pitches. I'm just not doing that anymore."

> Anibal Sanchez, on the disabled list for the second time this season with a shoulder sprain, received clearance from doctors Friday night to resume playing catch and did so Saturday.

But Gonzalez said it will be a long while before Sanchez pitches on the mound again. When asked if he thought Sanchez could return after the All-Star break, he declined to speculate saying only "it's going to be a long time."

"[The doctor] told me the same thing as last time 'You have to wait until you feel better and you have to do things little by little and have patience," Sanchez said. "I feel a little discomfort. But that's going to go away. Bottomline, I just want to get it right so when I do come back, I don't have to deal with it anymore."

June 19, 2009

West takes loss as "learning experience"

It's not often a 22-year old left-hander gets to take on a $200 million batting order.

So, despite the fact he got shelled by the Yankees Friday night in what was by far his worst outing of his six major league starts, Marlins left-hander Sean West isn't going to go cry in a corner. To West, it was a challenge he didn't meet and a learning experience.

“That’s a good group of hitters, best money can buy,” West said. “They got a pretty powerful lineup. I tried to throw strikes and they capitalized on my mistakes. It’s a learning experience.”

West said his changeup simply wasn't falling over for strikes and it cost him. The double Jeter to open the game? High changeup. The ball Angel Berroa smacked for an RBI double? High changeup.

What went right? “I threw a lot of strikes and I didn’t look at these guys any differently than I did previous teams," said West, who gave up 10 hits and five earned runs in four innings. "I came out throwing strikes and they swung early. I just left some balls up and they capitalized on it."

West certainly wasn't scared of the Yankees. In fact, he was disappointed when Alex Rodriguez was scratched from the lineup before the game. And he liked the fact most of the 35,000 in attendance were rooting for the Yankees. "It definitely added a few miles per hour to my fastball," West said. "But I do wish I would have had a chance to pitch to A-Rod. That's how you measure yourself."