Donovan Solano so impressed Ozzie Guillen spring a year ago that the former manager lobbied the front office to give the Colombian infielder a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Solano started the season in the minors before the Marlins called him up in May.
This spring, Solano needs no one to vouch for him. Second base is all his.
“I have the opportunity to be on the team on Opening Day, and that would be like a dream,” said the soft-spoken player.
It would also be news in soccer-crazed Colombia, which hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of baseball. Solano became just the 12th Colombian-born player to play in the majors when he made his debut last May 21. Eight days later, his older brother — Jhonatan, a catcher — became the 13th when he debuted for the Nationals.
Solano said his parents named him for a John Wayne movie character they admired.
Despite the scarcity of Colombians in the majors, Donovan Solano isn’t even the first middle infielder from the country to play for the Marlins. Shortstop Edgar Renteria beat him to that honor.
While Solano isn’t a defensive whiz in Renteria’s mold, Marlins infield coach Perry Hill says he’s “steady” and improving daily. Hill has worked extensively with Solano and new shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria to get them in sync as a double-play combination.
And Hill is employing an unusual technique to promote improvement. After fielding a ground ball or taking a throw, Solano is required to close his eyes before throwing to a base. If an infielder can make an accurate throw with his eyes closed he should never miss with them open.
“I make him close his eyes when he’s doing all the drills so he can trust his feet,” Hill said.
Solano is definitely not closing his eyes at the plate.
He’s developing a reputation as a March monster. Solano earned the high praises of Guillen last spring, in part due to his .429 (18 for 42) average. Solano isn’t letting up. He’s hitting .467 (14 for 30) so far this spring. And his spring training average in 2010 for the Cardinals was .500 (14 for 28).
“This is how you prepare for the season, so why not try to play the same way now as you do then?” Solano said.
Solano is the anti-Stanton, as in Marlins slugger Giancarlo.
He’s no slugger. Rather, he’s a singles machine. Last season, 68 of his 84 hits were singles (only two home runs).
Marlins RHP John Maine
at New York Yankees LHPCC Sabathia
(15-6, 3.38), 1:05 p.m., Tampa.
Marlins RHPHenderson Alvarez
(9-14 4.85) at New York Mets (TBA), 1:10 p.m., Port St. Lucie.