As Don Mattingly prepares to open his second spring training as Marlins manager on Tuesday (when pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter), he has a message for his team and also a question for them:
▪ The message was delivered in a letter originally penned by then-Pirates and former Marlins manager Jim Leyland 29 years ago. Mattingly sent it to every member of the Marlins organization, as MLB Network’s Peter Gammons reported last week.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we are about to emerge as a contender,” the letter said, among many other things.
Here’s Gammon’s piece and the letter:
“I don’t know how I got a hold of it,” Mattingly said of the letter, speaking to myself and three other media members at Jack McKeon’s Marlins charity golf tournament at Crandon Park Golf Course on Monday.
“I actually didn’t tell Jim I did this. Hope he didn’t care. It was about little things and the details and talked about a lot of stuff. It fit our club perfectly. We’re a young club. We kind of made a little bit of a stride last year. We feel we have the ability to get to the next level.
“It pertained to us. It’s 29 years ago that this letter was written [but] it’s all the same stuff you talk about every year. How do you win? Teams that win, those are the things they end up doing. I thought it was perfect for our club and I wanted to pass it on.”
▪ As for the question for his players, here’s how Mattingly framed it:
“Where do we want to go? Are we going to become about winning? When we came in last year, we wanted to talk about winning and team and how do you get there. We totally understand young guys are trying to carve their path… They’re starting to make a little money, which is good. There has to be more than that. What is our goal as a team and an organization? What are we going to become? Are our guys going to continue to improve? That is what we want to be as an organization.”
Mattingly said, essentially, that using youth as a crutch doesn’t hold up any longer.
“It should be [time to win],” he said. “You say you’re a young club. The young club window only goes so far. You’re only young and inexperienced for a time. We’re going into a third year of this group being together. You hope some of the things we went through last year — I’m talking about the pennant race — playing meaningful games for a long period of time — will help us in the areas where I think we can get better: our prep, our day-to-day attention to the details and the smaller things are going to be the difference for us. Can we improve? That’s the other thing with a young team.”
Mattingly addressed several other issues on Monday:
▪ On adding starting pitchers Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily and Jeff Locke (who could begin in the bullpen) to complement Adam Conley, Tom Koelher and Wei Yin Chen:
“I like what we’ve been able to do. The biggest question is how do we replace Jose [Fernandez]. All of our answers have been pretty much the same: We don’t. We got guys who have thrown quality innings in big situations. Jeff Locke is a couple years removed from being an All-Star. Edinson Volquez has pitched in a World Series and started a wild card game against the Giants. This guy has been pitching in some big situations. Dan Straily had an outstanding year last year. We feel like that’s the trend for him, moving to our ballpark, with our defense.
“We bring in some guys that are pretty interesting. Obviously, in our situation, we’re not going to go out and spend the highest dollar. We’re trying to find guys that fit us that can be guys that still have something in the tank. [Marlins analytics man] Jason Pare, with analytics, gives us reads to try to find the best guys for us.”
▪ On first base: “Our plan is to try to give Justin [Bour] an opportunity to play every day. We think there’s a lot in the tank with this guy. At the break last year, this guy was on fire. He was at 15 homers,  RBI before the break [in 68 games]. He was trending toward 30 bombs last year and being a guy close to a 100 RBI [before an injury limited him to 90 games total]. He brings fear to the lineup. I think he’s getting better.
“We’re going to give him an opportunity to have more at-bats, but we want to have enough flexibility to be able to give him that tough lefty off. That’s where we will try to give [catcher] J.T. Realmuto some thoughts of playing first base [occasionally]. Our main thing is he doesn’t go backwards development-wise with his catching, but we think he’s athletic enough and has enough energy where we can help him play first base and get that done in spring training.”
▪ He sounded like the Marlins likely would go with 13 pitchers, leaving eight for the bullpen. Feel of the game, and analytics and other factors will determine how soon he lifts his starters.
He said when a pitcher throws a third time through the order, “it’s shown throughout baseball, even with your best starters, a lot of your bullpen guys give you a better opportunity to get guys out. It’s tough to take out a guy whose pitch count is low. There are a lot of factors. You have to take all of that into effect.
“We’ve really tried to strengthen a strength [by adding Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to the bullpen]. It gives us more options. It makes us deeper out there. We have more guys that have pitched later in the game. It does allow you to go quicker in the bullpen. That being said, if your starter has thrown 60 pitches and he’s throwing good in the fifth, we let the game dictate what we do.
“Even with eight guys out there, if you are trying to get five innings out of your pen every day for 162, you’re going to beat everybody up. It’s having the ability to go to guys earlier. We can be quicker with the starter.”
▪ He said A.J. Ramos will begin the season as the closer.
“We think that will be our guy. But we want guys to be open-minded. There may be a big situation in the eighth and it may fit better for A.J. to pitch that inning, because we have four other guys that could possibly pitch the ninth.
“But we do want to get their roles set and have them have a good feel for when that phone rings, it’s them. That’s really important to those guys. We’re going to do that as much as we can but we do want them to have an open mind on certain things.”