March 4, 2013

Joe Mahoney finding his hitting stroke; can he find a home for Miami Marlins?

Joe Mahoney hopes to find a home in the Marlins infield — but he’s willing to play the outfield if he can make the final roster.

First baseman Joe Mahoney might be new to the Marlins, but he’s not new to the power of Giancarlo Stanton.

Back in 2008 as a member of the Delmarva Shorebirds of the low-A South Atlantic League, Mahoney saw a few of the 39 home runs Stanton crushed as a baby-faced, 18-year-old member of the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

“There was one game in Greensboro where he hit one out of the park and over the road behind right-center field,” Mahoney recalled Sunday. “It was the furthest I’ve ever seen a ball hit in a game. The stuff he does in batting practice is almost super human. But it’s good he’s on our side.”

The Marlins aren’t looking for another Stanton-sized bat this spring. But the search is on for some pop — especially from the left-side of the plate.

Mahoney (6-6, 245), a former minor-league player of the year (2010) in the Orioles system, showed he has some of that Saturday against the Mets, belting two long home runs to right field.

With Logan Morrison still recovering from right knee surgery and expected to miss the start of the season, Mahoney and veteran journeyman Casey Kotchman, signed to a minor league deal, are auditioning to keep his seat until he gets healthy.

“Obviously, Mahoney doesn’t have the major league experience [Casey] Kotchman does. That’s a factor,” manager Mike Redmond said Saturday. “But at the same time we’re looking for a guy who can provide some power in the middle of that order. Mahoney hopefully could fill that need.

“It’s going to be interesting. It will be a lot of conversations over that spot. We still got a lot of games left. As we get further and deeper into spring training and facing team’s No. 1 pitchers and top guys I think we’ll truly get a read on what we got.”

The Marlins hit just 30 home runs from the left side of the plate last season, 15th out of 16 National League teams.

Mahoney, a sixth-round draft choice in 2007, never put up eye-opening home run numbers with the Orioles. He hit .274 with 63 homers in 619 minor-league games for Baltimore. He hit just 10 homers last year and 11 in 2011. But in his best season (2010) in the minors, he hit .307 with 18 homers and 78 RBI between Single A and Double A.

Now 26, Mahoney feels like he’s starting to mature as a hitter. He said he learned a lot from former Orioles teammates Derrek Lee, Nick Johnson and Chris Davis in his three previous springs with Baltimore and has learned quite a bit now working with new Marlins hitting coach Tino Martinez.

“I’ve always kind of had it,” Mahoney said of the power. “But now is when I’m really starting to learn pitch selection and letting it translate into games. I’m trying to be an all-around player, be a good hitter who hits for average, drive runners in.”

The Orioles called Mahoney up twice last season to the big-leagues. But he only got four at-bats, finishing 0 for 4 before the team designated him for assignment in the off-season.

Mahoney, who sports a tattoo of the Irish flag and his family crest on his upper back, said he’s welcomed the change. He and his wife are expecting their first child in mid-August and are hoping they can find a permanent home.

So far this spring, he’s 5 for 14 with five RBI and two homers. Kotchman, 30, went 3 for 4 on Sunday and is now 7 for 11 with a home run and five RBI. “It’s good that he’s hot,” Mahoney said. “That pushes me, too.”

If there is a bonus in keeping Mahoney for the Marlins, it’s that he could play a corner outfield spot in a pinch. He played 35 games in the outfield in the minors. But Redmond said it’s unlikely Mahoney will play the outfield this spring because the Marlins don’t have many other options at first.

“I told [Redmond] I could play out there if he needs me,” Mahoney said. “I told him I’d run around the stadium all night if he wants me to. Whatever it takes to make the team, get in the lineup.”

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