Brett Butler is trying to turn the Marlins into thieves.
But Butler, who stole 558 bases as a player and was hired to help put a little more giddy-up in the Marlins’ running game, said improvement will require baby steps.
“All I can do is take what I have and try to mold this clay into effective baserunners, those who can steal bases and those who can run the bases properly,” he said.
It won’t be an easy task.
The Marlins’ lineup is not exactly blessed with blazing speed. While the Marlins finished in the middle of the pack last season with 78 stolen bases, nearly half of that total no longer exists. The Marlins’ record for fewest stolen bases in a 162-game season is 75.
Juan Pierre (23 stolen bases) and Justin Ruggiano (15) are gone.
There are no Lou Brocks remaining in the lineup.
The Marlins are cognizant of the situation, which is why Butler was hired during the offseason to help with baserunning and bunting while also serving as third-base coach.
“Do we have a base stealer? No,” Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said. “But do we have some guys who can steal a bag? Absolutely. There are base stealers, and there are guys who can steal a base. We have some guys who can steal a base in [Rafael] Furcal, [Christian] Yelich, [Marcell] Ozuna and [Adeiny] Hechavarria.”
Just don’t expect any of them to steal 40 or 50 — or even 30.
Given the fact that the Marlins aren’t blessed with a wealth of power or a lineup full of .300 hitters, the need to manufacture runs is vital for the team to have any hope of improving on last year’s anemic offense.
Butler is confident the Marlins can do just that. But the learning curve is steep.
Hechavarria, who stole 11 bases but was caught 10 times last season, is one of Butler’s top projects.
“Hechavarria doesn’t really have an understanding of how to steal bases yet,” Butler said. “He’s uncomfortable. He hasn’t done it a whole lot.”
Butler said some players are also overly tentative when they reach base and are reluctant to risk being thrown out by trying to steal.
As a result, the coaching staff has been ordering players to run in certain situations rather than give them a choice.
“We gave them the option to run on their own,” Butler said. “Now we’re going to force them to run. We’re telling them, ‘We want you to run now. Go ahead and try it.’ ”
Butler said it will just take time.
“It’s almost like taking them through Baseball 101,” he said.
But Butler said if players continue to work at it, they will succeed eventually — just as he did.
“I’ve got the Atlanta Braves record for being picked off and thrown out in one year,” Butler said of his baserunning struggles as a rookie. “Why? Because I had to find out what my limit was.”
Jose Fernandez didn’t bring his “A” game in Saturday’s “Battle of the Aces” showdown with Stephen Strasburg in Jupiter.
But Fernandez said that will change in his final two spring training starts when he pitches as if it’s the regular season.
Fernandez labored through 4 1/3 innings Saturday, issuing four walks while striking out four in the Marlins’ 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals. But he said he was throwing pitches he would not normally throw in a real game.
“Obviously, not my best day,” Fernandez said. “But I’m not worried about it.”
Fernandez said that he threw six sliders in a row during one sequence, something he would never do in a regular-season game, as he continued to sharpen up for his Opening-Day start March 31 against Colorado.
“I would never do that in a season,” Fernandez said. “But I was working on stuff. My next two starts, I’m firing it out there.”
Fernandez threw 73 pitches, 41 for strikes.• Furcal’s return to the lineup was brief. Furcal, who missed several games with a hamstring injury, was lifted in the third inning of Saturday’s game after feeling tightness in his leg.
Furcal reached on a first-inning single but came out of the game as a precaution after getting aboard in the third on a fielder’s choice. Furcal said he felt some tightness in the leg and just wanted to be careful.
“He felt a little something in that hamstring, so we’ll take a look at him,” said Rob Leary, who is managing the team in Jupiter while Mike Redmond and the rest of the club are in Panama. “He ended up motioning that something just didn’t quite feel right.”
COMING UP• Sunday: Marlins RHP Kevin Slowey at Minnesota Twins RHP Ricky Nolasco, 1:05 p.m., Fort Myers.
• Sunday: Marlins RHP Nathan Eovaldi vs. New York Yankees LHP CC Sabathia, 2:05 p.m., Panama City, Panama.
• Monday: Marlins RHP Henderson Alvarez vs. New York Mets (TBA), 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.