JUPITER The one with the shoulder injury is simulating a pitcher’s throwing action by practicing his delivery off a bullpen mound. But there is no catcher and, instead of a baseball, he is gripping a white towel, which snaps like a whip with every windup and follow-through.
The one with the surgically repaired knee is allowed to hit in a morning scrimmage involving young prospects, the vast majority of which will never wear a major-league uniform, but is not allowed to wear his glove and field a position out of concern the knee is not yet strong enough.
Yet a third, the one who had elbow ligament-replacement surgery (i.e., Tommy John surgery) a year ago is watching forlornly, unable to so much as play catch for the time being.
All three are major-leaguers. At least they were when healthy. And all three — starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, first baseman Logan Morrison and reliever Jose Ceda — are counting the days until they return.
Welcome to “Extended Spring Training,” where you’ll discover a mishmash of injured players, as well as those not assigned to one of the Marlins’ four minor-league teams. It is where most of the 11 players on the Marlins’ disabled list spend their days, healing and working their way back into playing shape.
“You might need a couple of days with all the guys we have,” former Marlins manager Jack McKeon tells a visitor, who says he has come to look over the injured assortment.
McKeon, who continues to work behind the scenes in the organization, is there to check out the Marlins’ rawest prospects, the majority of which fall into one of two categories: recent draft picks or signees from Latin American countries. In mid-June, most will head off to play in the short-summer leagues.
But there are also the injured players, 11 from the Marlins’ 40-man roster along with about another 20 from their minor-league teams. Morrison is the most prominent member of the injured bunch, but he’s not the only notable player.
Ceda, a hard-throwing reliever the Marlins obtained from the Cubs in a 2008 trade for Kevin Gregg, is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. He hopes he’ll be ready to pitch after the All-Star break in July. The endless grind and monotony that goes with the recovery process is agonizing.
“People, they come up to you and laugh and say you’re on vacation,” Ceda said. “They think you want to be here. It’s not true. You want to be out of here. You watch the [Marlins] games on TV, and you want to be there. It’s frustrating.”
Eovaldi was supposed to be in the Marlins’ starting rotation to start the season. But he developed shoulder tendinitis toward the end of spring training and hasn’t pitched. He only recently started throwing off a bullpen mound and has set a June 9 target date — assuming there are no further setbacks — for his return.
“I’m hoping there’s a way we can speed that up,” he said.
Henderson Alvarez, who was also expected to fill one of the Marlins’ five rotation spots to start the season after being acquired in the mega-trade with the Toronto Blue Jays that caused so much controversy, is also spending his days at extended spring because of shoulder inflammation. Unlike Eovaldi, however, he isn’t throwing at all after the shoulder flared up on him recently. He might not be ready to pitch for the Marlins until after the All-Star break.
And then there’s Morrison, who is trying to work his way back to the Marlins after undergoing his second knee surgery in two years. Morrison, a pure hitter and once one of the Marlins’ top up-and-coming talents, is now simply trying to get his career back on track. He appeared in only 93 games last season, hitting .230 before his knee would not allow him to continue and he underwent a second operation.
The Marlins have allowed him to bat as a designated hitter in scrimmages. He’ll begin playing first base Tuesday. Like all the other Marlins on the mend, he is eager to leave the relative anonymity of extended spring and return to the bright lights of the majors.
“This is the bottom of the barrel,” said Morrison, whose daily ritual is to show up at 6:40 a.m. each morning to begin a regimen of exercises and drills. He doesn’t leave until early afternoon.
On one of the practice fields located behind the main ballpark at Roger Dean Stadium, the Marlins’ youngsters are taking on counterparts belonging to the New York Mets. A coach for the Mets informs McKeon that eight of his players have the stomach flu and one of them, a pitcher, is sick on the team bus.
There are no fans, and one player is designated to chase down and retrieve foul balls that bounce into the parking lot. Because there are no bat boys, either, one other player from each team handles that chore. Yet another player takes water to each of the two umpires between innings.
Given his status, Morrison leads off each of the first four innings under the loose rules of extended spring games. He cracks a double into the gap with one of his cuts but is retired on each of the other three at-bats, after which he grabs his hat and returns to the clubhouse while the game continues.
If all continues to go well, Morrison will depart extended spring and join one of the Marlins’ minor-league outfits to begin a rehab process that could last for up to 20 days. After that, he hopes to rejoin the Marlins.
“June 1 is what I’m shooting for,” he said. “I feel like my knee’s holding up fine. I have no pain, so that’s good. I feel like my knee’s ready. And the bat’s coming along. But I still have a ways to go.”
Said Eovaldi: “Everybody’s starting to get back on path now. Everybody’s going to start coming back at once.”
Coming upTuesday Wednesday Scouting report