JUPITER, Fla.—Some days the split squad games suit what the Marlins need to make their eight man bullpen work. For instance, as Mike Hill says, “we’re trying to get Ichiro Suzuki and Justin Bour as many at-bats against lefthanded pitchers as possible this spring because with a four man bench we have to see if they can hit lefties.”
In other words, no platoon for Bour, who in his major league career has played in 78 games against lefthanded pitchers for 110 at-bats, a .223/.283/.291/.564 line and no home runs. Ichiro actually had a .339 average against lefthanders last season, but in only 59 at-bats.
Before they learned that Martin Prado has a Grade One hamstring and will miss weeks of the early season, their bench was Ichiro, Derek Dietrich, Miguel Rojas and A.J. Ellis, which Don Mattingly conceded might force a pitcher to bat in the middle of the game, then be relieved, because Ichiro and Dietrick would have to be held for leverage situations. Now, that means Ichiro will be alone as a situational hitter.
Next, Hill says “we have to develop three relievers that can give us length if and when a starter doesn’t get through five or six innings.”
OK, that means they open the season with Adam Conley (25 starts, 133 1/3 IP), Edinson Volquez (34 GS, 189 1/3 IP), Dan Straily (31 GS, 191 1/3 IP), Wei-Yin Chen (22 GS, 123 IP) and Tom Koehler (33 GS, 176 2/3) in the rotation, with Jeff Locke and minor league lefthander Dillon Peters available for depth.
So the length to get to the final two or three innings and perhaps even pull a piggyback start are Dustin McGowan and hard-throwing Jose Urena, who is being stretched out as a starter and threw well in Port St. Lucie Sunday. That leads them to Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough, Junichi Tazawa and possibly Hunter Cervenka to eventually get to closer A.J. Ramos.
And Mattingly and Hill then use the optionable pitchers route to run pitchers back and forth between New Orleans and Miami. Justin Nicolino has made tweaks to his delivery and ticked close to 95. Nick Wittgren, maybe Drew Steckenrider.
“I really believe we can be really good,” says Mattingly. “All the talk is about the Nationals and the Mets, and they are very good teams with great pitching. But if you look at our everyday lineup, we may be as good as anyone. Our outfield (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna), healthy, is outstanding. J.T. Realmuto can be a star. We have Dee Gordon for a full season. We just have to juggle and make the pitching work.”
As the season progresses, they may have depth coming out of their system in third baseman Brian Anderson and shortstop J.T. Riddle. They spend hours every day scouring the waiver wires. Pitching coach Juan Nieves is tireless.
Can this work without a 200 inning pitcher and what essentially is a two man bench? “We’re going to give it a try, and I think we can make it work,” says Mattingly.
And, if it works through the All Star Game to be played in Marlins Park, there are the issues of the sale and whether or not Jeffrey Loria is the ambassador to France and what cash is available for a midseason pickup, or three. It may take 30 pitchers by Labor Day, but it will be fascinating to watch.
Dusty Baker watches Mookie Betts and sees a young Henry Aaron, Baker’s longtime friend. “They’re about the same size at the same age, and I watch those magic hands of Mookie, the same swing and see the explosion and I see Hank. I know Hank as a hitter, as a young player, and a friend, and when I see Mookie, I say, ‘Mercy, that’s Hank Aaron.”
A month after Betts arrived in the big leagues, Matt Yallof bought into my doing a side-by-side of the great Aaron and Betts. Dusty says we got it right, my friend.
Through the weekend, Harvard was 7-6 on its southern swing, and freshman shortstop Quinn Hoffman—Trevor’s son—was playing very well.
Well, the Ivies are becoming MLB grads’ favorites. Jarod Boone, Bret’s son, will be playing shortstop for Scott Bradley next year at Princeton. And Jarod’s high school coach in Torrey Pines, Ca. Kirk McCaskill will have his son Riley playing at Dartmouth.
You probably remember McCaskill was a great hockey player at the University of Vermont, the Catamounts, a university started by the Allen family.
Dusty hasn’t decided on his lineup or his closer, despite so many media suggestions. He’s still thinking about Adam Eaton in the seven. “That position can either be a second leadoff man or someone who can come up with big guys on base and make contact and knock in a couple of runs,” says Baker.
As for the closer, there is an acknowledgement that Blake Treinen has closer stuff, but even with his improvement against lefthanded hitters, his ability to generate ground balls and double plays make him invaluable in the seventh and eighth innings. Shawn Kelley is so tough he’s overcome two Tommy John Surgeries, but can he hold up pitching three straight days? Koda Glover lurks.