Mike Hill was asked Monday when he thought the Marlins would become contenders.
“At what time is first pitch tonight?” Hill replied.
Hill officially opened his first season as Marlins president of baseball operations and expressed optimism that the team’s offseason roster moves will be the catalyst for a significant turnaround from last year’s 100-loss season.
“When you pitch, you win, and we’ve pitched well,” said Hill, who spoke to the media before the Marlins’ Opening Night game against the Rockies. “We set all kinds of marks last year with our productivity from our starters and our bullpen. But our offense was subpar … no question about it. We think our pitching is stronger and our lineup has improved. There’s more talent in our lineup and it’s a deeper lineup.”
And it’s a lineup with a much stronger veteran presence that the Marlins spent the offseason acquiring in the hopes of complementing their young, talented pitching.
With the exception of shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria, a new infield comprised of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones, second baseman Jeff Baker and third baseman Casey McGehee, who hit cleanup behind slugger Giancarlo Stanton, made its debut Monday night.
The Marlins are also counting on another veteran acquisition, second baseman Rafael Furcal, to add depth and leadership upon his return from a hamstring injury.
“We really had to step back [this offseason] and look at our strengths and where we’ve fallen short,” Hill said. “In the past, we’ve played with young rosters and just rolled with them and let them sink or swim together. I learned a valuable lesson because you need veterans that have experience and know how to lead young guys and show them the way to overcome adversity.”
Hill expects the added depth to help the Marlins start much better than last season when the team struggled to a 14-41 record dealing with injuries to Stanton and starting pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, and poor performance out of the gate by starter Jacob Turner.
“The first two months of last season the middle of our lineup from [Double-A] Jacksonville was hitting in our big-league lineup,” Hill said. “It was not drawn up that way. We had a concerted effort to bring in more depth and more options so we can absorb the inevitable when it happens. Things are going to happen over 162 games, and you have to navigate around it.”
The Marlins had the fifth-best team ERA (3.50) in baseball this spring and won 18 games — the most by any National League team.
“Our ERA in spring training was not an accident,” Hill said. “How we scored runs in the spring was not an accident. It set the tone for what we expect for the season.
“I would say that all our starters have made tremendous strides with the lessons they learned last year and just becoming better pitchers in terms of navigating lineups, working deeper into games and sharpening their secondary stuff.”
Hill did not want to put a specific number on how many games he expects the Marlins to win this season nor where they would finish in the standings.
The Marlins have finished last in the NL East each of the past three seasons.
Sports books in Las Vegas have the Marlins winning more games this season (69), but not too many more.
“I like it when people don’t pick us, and I like flying under the radar because I know the 25 guys in that clubhouse believe in one another, and I believe in the talent in that clubhouse,” Hill said. “Anything can happen when you have good pitching and timely hitting, and that’s our expectation.”