Wes Helms said Tuesday he'd like to have an opportunity before the season is over to pull Jack McKeon aside and pick his brain about managing.
The veteran infielder, who has had conversations with owner Jeffrey Loria about becoming a coach in the organization once his playing career is over, said he's been impressed with the tactics McKeon has used to help turn the Marlins around.
Helms said McKeon has pushed all the right buttons -- from asking All-Star Gaby Sanchez to bunt and pulling pitchers in the middle of at-bats (showing winning is above all else) to "knowing when to show tough love" and "pat a guy on the butt."
No example of the latter burns brighter, Helms said, than Hanley Ramirez, who after being slotted into the clean-up spot by McKeon went into Tuesday's game hitting .384 (2nd highest in the majors over the span) with 19 runs scored, six doubles, five home runs and 24 RBI (2nd most in baseball) in 23 games.
On June 19, Ramirez was batting .201 with a .300 on-base percentage. He's now batting .255 with a .347 on-base percentage.
"Hanley is going to be Hanley," Helms said. "There are some things with Hanley we just kind of have to deal with, as far as I guess the showboat stuff. It's not going to change. We've tried to, but it's not. But the way he's approached his at-bats, the way he's approached his defense, the way he's come to the field everyday and not really bothered anybody, standing upon himelf, I've definitely seen a big difference [since McKeon took over]."
Helms said when the Marlins were in Texas last month, he had a conversation with veteran umpire Joe West about Ramirez and his change in attitude.
"Joe West said if this kid plays 162 games with 100 percent heart, he'll be a Hall of Famer. And it's true. He's that good," Helms said.
"Hanley is one of these guys where he'll always need that guy to keep him where he needs to be. Not all of us can self-motivate ourselves. Not all of us have that extra drive by ourselves. Some of us in the game, it's not just him, there's other guys, need that need that extra pat in the butt to get us going. I think Jack and whatever they do for next year, if it's Jack or whatever, that's the decision they have to think about to keep him going. Because when he's going, this team rolls. He is the sparkplug for our team."
The Marlins returned home Tuesday night on pace to finish with their best record in July (17-7 in 2003), and a 13-4 mark since June 29 that is tied with Boston and Texas for the most wins in baseball over that span.
STILL STEAMED: A flight home from New York, a night's rest and a conversation before Tuesday's game with McKeon did nothing to make reliever Randy Choate feel any better about getting pulled Monday night in the middle of an at-bat against the Mets' Lucas Duda.
The Marlins left-handed specialist, who was pulled with a 2-0 count on the left-handed Duda, said he he had "a little bit of track record this year" to remain in the game. Choate came into Tuesday's game having allowed just six hits in 56 at-bats (.107 average) against lefties. The earned run the Mets scored off him Monday was just the third in 20 1/3 innings this season.
"I felt like I deserved the chance," said Choate, who wasn't upset the first time McKeon pulled him in the middle of an at-bat with a 2-1 count against the Angels’ Alberto Callaspo on June 21.
"I think if I had a year of service time or a rookie who was up, I think I would have taken it a little better than a guy whose been around, been here all year and felt like I'd be doing a decent job of what my one specific job was. Because mine is a little more specific than anybody else around here. That's why it's disappointing.
"I just don't want to feel like I have to look over my shoulder if I go two balls and no strikes to a lefty."
When asked about his pregame conversation with Choate, McKeon said: "What's the big deal? We didn't talk about anything, nothing important."
HAPPY HENSLEY: Clay Hensley, the Marlins former setup man who picked up his first win as a starter Monday since he was with the Padres in 2007, said he expects to go deeper in his next scheduled start Saturday against the Mets.
Hensley threw just 84 pitches and went five innings, giving up one hit. "I imagine going up to around the 95 to the 100 pitch mark," Hensley said. "I was actually feeling pretty good as the game went on. I wasn't feeling too weathered. I think I started to feel it a little bit when I was up in the 80s. I felt a lot better than I thought I was going to feel in terms of arm strength."
Hensley, who was in the lead to make the starting rotation coming out of spring training in 2010, believes he will have a strong shot at making the starting rotation in 2012 if he can finish this season strong.
"I'm happy about it man," Hensley said. "It's something I've done in the past. Obviously I was happy coming out of the bullpen, but my hearts always been in the rotation. I'm just glad to have the opportunity again to go out and do it."
> ESPN baseball writer Jerry Crasnick reported Tuesday that the Phillies have talked to the Marlins about acquiring closer Leo Nunez. Crasnick said the Marlins are looking for young starting pitching in return. Nunez, who signed a one-year $3.65 million deal this year, could command upwards of $6 to $7 million next season.