The $325 million man is ready to go.
Giancarlo Stanton, four months removed from signing the richest contract in baseball history, is ready to put the beanball that shattered teeth, broke bones in his face and sidelined him for the final 17 games of the Marlins’ 2014 season in the past.
He’s ready to step into the batter’s box, put his new protective face guard to use against live pitching and smash some fastballs.
Stanton is ready to get back to being Stanton.
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“I haven’t changed at all,” Stanton said as he addressed the Marlins media for the first time since signing his record 13-year deal on Nov. 19.
“I’ve had pretty much the standard offseason in terms of work and being prepared for this upcoming season. In terms of the baseball player, I’m the same.”
The Marlins, though, aren’t the same team they were six months ago. Three-fourths of the infield has changed. Two veteran starting pitchers have been acquired.
That plan the Marlins pitched to Stanton before he agreed to that record deal? “Yeah,” Stanton said. “Everything is going according to the plan.”
Now, it’s his turn.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Marlins met for their first full-squad workout of the spring. Their first exhibition game is Monday afternoon against FIU at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.
Stanton, who led the National League in home runs (37), slugging percentage (.555), OPS (.950), extra-base hits (99) and RBI (105) when he was lost for the season on Sept. 11, said he feels no lasting pain from his injuries.
But it’s not the pain most are worried about.
Won’t he be a little scared facing pitchers this spring who are still a month from getting into game shape? Won’t that fastball teammate Jose Fernandez plunked him with on these same backfields two years ago pop into his head? Won’t he be a little bit anxious?
“I’ve been in my normal routine,” Stanton said. “I’ve hit just about every day since I [first got back to] Florida a couple weeks ago. I look forward to hitting off live pitching. I don’t look forward to it anymore than in years past. What happened to me isn’t one of my focuses to get past. I’m just looking at this as a normal spring training. As long as I keep that way I’ll be fine.”
Stanton said the protective face guard he will wear — similar to the one former Braves right fielder Jason Heyward sported for a year — might need altering throughout spring training. But he will figure it out as he goes.
“As long as it doesn’t alter playing or seeing low balls, high balls whatever, I plan to wear it,” he said. “We’ll just see how the games go.”
Stanton is focused on the games. He wants to win and loves the trade the team made for new speedy second baseman Dee Gordon, who will surely bat leadoff two spots in front of Stanton.
“Anytime he’s on base he’s going to be a threat,” Stanton said. “I’m just happy he’ll be hitting in front of me.”
Stanton also likes having a World Series champion in Michael Morse hitting behind him, protecting him from the cleanup spot.
“It will be good working with him,” Stanton said “We’ll get a feel off our approaches, how we’re going to work with it. He has that World Series experience, and he knows what it takes. We got a few more of those guys in here that will us get to where we need to be.”
And where the Marlins want to be come October is in the playoffs. The Marlins haven’t been there since they last won it all in 2003. They are one of just three teams in baseball not to make the playoffs in the past 10 years.
So are these Marlins a playoff team?
“Yes,” Stanton said. “We’ll see. We’ve got to do it. We don’t just say this every spring training: playoffs, World Series. You got to do it. We have the caliber and talent to be there, of course. What are we going to do come August and September? That’s up to us.”
Does he feel more pressure to deliver now that he’s the richest player in the game?
“That’s all your guys’ job, and everyone else, to put the weight on,” he said. “It’s my job to disperse it and try to help out the team, and figure out what I need to do on the field, and not worry about the pressures of the outside world.
“I don’t need to go every day and re-evaluate, ‘Am I living up to this? Or that? Or this?’ I’m going to prepare up to the best of my ability either way. I’ll alter it as I need to.”