The Marlins head into their series at Detroit on Tuesday at a season-best six games over .500, at 41-35, and holding one of two National League wild card berths at the moment.
President/baseball operations Michael Hill addressed several topics when I spoke to him in the past week:
• What has pleasantly surprised him: “The team, how they’ve taken that next step. How you hoped what we saw in September was not a mirage and how these guys were coming together and starting to believe in the ability that they had and that they could achieve great things if they played together as a team and took care of each other and took care of the little things.
"It’s that sense of team that has allowed them to overcome whatever has been thrown their way, whether it’s Dee [Gordon’s] suspension or Giancarlo [Stanton’s] struggles or Carter Capps blowing out. We always talk about the grind of the season. You never know what you’re going to face, but you have to be prepared to deal with it and overcome it if you want to achieve great things.”
Hill also cites “the growth of Marcell Ozuna, and Derek Dietrich stepping in and stepping up, of Christian Yelich showing that he is a true three hole hitter, Martin Prado doing what he’s doing, JT Realmuto showing he’s a frontline catcher.”
• Glad you kept Ozuna, huh? “Ozuna’s talent was unquestioned. We really felt like last year was just part of his growth and he would learn from adversity that he faced."
So what's the difference with him?
"His discipline. He’s narrowed his strike zone. In this league, if they can get you out without throwing you a strike, they won’t throw you a strike. He has really tightened things up and they have to pitch to him now and he’s an unbelievably talented young man. You make mistakes, he’s going to make you pay for it.”
• On Giancarlo Stanton, who had been struggling until recently, Hill said he was never worried, that he would be worried if he were in perfect form and still not getting results: “You can see it wasn’t him. You could see he was out of sync. We had to get him in sync. That’s what everyone has been working to make happen.”
• On Wei-Yin Chen’s struggles: “We knew there would be a little bit of growing pains coming over [from the AL] and a little bit has been his pitch sequences and pitch selections. We fully believe that’s something that’s correctable and he will be the pitcher we expect him to be.”
• On what Don Mattingly has given this team: “A calmness. A calmness in chaos. When things are crazy, he has a tremendous feel for this team and a self-confidence in himself and his abilities. He’s not panicked, he’s calm, so we don’t need to panic and we don’t need to lose sight of the bigger [picture], of what our ultimate goal is.
"You talk about Donny and all the great things that he’s done. He’s kept his bench as sharp as any bench I’ve ever been associated with. Whether it’s Chris Johnson, keeping him sharp, or Deitrich or Ichiro. He does a tremendous job making sure they get at-bats. You need a 25 man roster to be successful and he makes sure they’re all given enough playing time to stay sharp.”
• Speaking of that, Hill envisions Dietrich continuing to get some playing time when Gordon is eligible to return from suspension July 29. Hill said Gordon has kept himself in good condition physically.
“We’ve talked, whenever Dee comes back, we’ll just continue to be creative and keep everybody sharp. We always felt [Dietrich was good enough to be an everyday player] because of his offensive potential, his knowledge of the strike zone, his ability to get on base. Those are all things that make him an everyday player and now he’s just been given the opportunity to do it. We’ve been creative in finding at bats for him in the past.”
• On first-round pick Braxton Garrett, the prep lefty from Alabama: “Young, athletic, lightning quick arm. I saw his last game of the year, up to 95, power curveball, plus changeup. His athleticism will allow him to move fast. Hopefully, we have him before the July 15 deadline [to sign].
“You saw Cliff Lee [watching him pitch], honestly. The athleticism, the pitch selection, the competitiveness. We’re very excited given the six picks ahead of us. We were very excited he was still there.”
QUICK UM NOTE
UM says pitching coach J.D. Arteaga removed his name from consideration for the FIU head coaching job and will remain at UM.