The loss of Jose Fernandez is impacting the Marlins in ways that go beyond the obvious. It goes beyond pitching. It goes beyond the energy he brought to the dugout.
It extends all the way — of all places — to the batter’s box.
Because the Marlins intend to start the season with only four reserves on their bench — one less than normal — manager Don Mattingly said he’ll be asking his pitchers to try their hand with the bat every now and then.
And Fernandez was the only one of the bunch who could swing one with any authority.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Would Fernandez have been Mattingly’s go-to hitter in a pinch?
“Absolutely,” Mattingly said. “No question.”
Not counting Fernandez, Marlins pitchers were abominable at the plate last season, hitting just .097 as a group. Fernandez accounted for roughly a third of the pitching staff’s 35 total hits. He hit .250.
With a short bench, Mattingly could have used him. On days Fernandez didn’t start, Mattingly could have employed him as a pinch-hitter early in games while saving his skilled reserves — Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Rojas and Derek Dietrich — for crunch-time situations later on.
(The fourth reserve, a backup catcher, would be used only in emergencies.)
As a result, Marlins pitchers are spending extra time in the batting cage this spring, working on their bunting and making contact with full swings.
“I really don’t have pitchers that can hit, and that’s one of the things we’re working on this spring,” Mattingly said.
Beyond Fernandez, the need for improvement by the Marlins’ pitchers as hitters is even greater this season. Mattingly is expected to keep his starters on a short leash and go to his arsenal of long — or “bridge” — relievers earlier than he has in the past. That could mean the trio of Dustin McGowan, Jeff Locke and Jose Urena may stay in to hit.
“I really look at more of the long guys, the bridge-type guys, they may have to hit,” Mattingly said. “A guy like McGowan, he’s going to have to be able to bunt or handle the bat if we go to him in the fourth or fifth.”
This much is certain: pitchers will be on constant alert. Gone are the days when they could lace up their sneakers and put on a sweat jacket to hide the fact they’re not wearing a game jersey underneath.
“You don’t normally sit with your jersey on, or with your cleats on,” said staring pitcher Tom Koehler. “That might have to change. We have to be ready.”
Like his fellow pitchers, Koehler can be seen walking around camp — more so than in the past — with a bat in his hands.
“I don’t think they’re going to ask us to go out there and hit .300,” Koehler said. “But if we can get bunts down, put the ball in play and move runners — not be an automatic strikeout — I think that’s what they’re looking for. We better make sure that not only starters — but also our relievers, can handle the bat.”
Backup catcher A.J. Ellis was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup because of tightness in his left hamstring, an injury that could jeopardize his plans to play in the World Baseball Classic.
“Way too early to make any decisions about that, or even speculate about that,” Ellis said. “Definitely don’t want to jump to any conclusions. Just want to see how [it] feels [Wednesday].”
Ellis, who was chosen to play for Team USA in the WBC, sustained the injury while running the bases during morning drills. He and the other Marlins picked to play in the tourney were scheduled to leave Monday to begin practice.
“If you go to play for Team USA, you’ve got to be able to fully participate and be a part of helping those guys meeting their goal,” Ellis said.
Ellis said he might hesitate to play in the WBC if the injury lingers.
THIS AND THAT
▪ By design, Brad Ziegler won’t be making many appearances out of the bullpen in spring games. Mattingly said Ziegler will get most of his throwing work in on the backfields.
“He’s not a guy you’re going to see in a ton of games,” Mattingly said of the 37-year-old reliever, whom the Marlins signed to a two-year deal over the winter. “He’s up there in age a little bit. But he’s also experienced, knows how to get himself ready. He’s a guy that we trust as a veteran pitcher, who’s been around. We’ll let him dictate his program a little bit.”
Mattingly said the Marlins also want to limit the number of times their National League East rivals have a chance to see the submariner this spring. The Marlins play 16 of their 35 Grapefruit League games against division teams.
▪ Ichiro Suzuki is expected to return to full-squad workouts with his teammates on Wednesday. Suzuki has been working out on his own since bruising his right knee and tweaking his back in an outfield collision last week.
“He’s doing good,” Mattingly said.
▪ Mattingly said southpaw Jeff Locke (biceps tendinitis in his throwing shoulder) is progressing and should resume throwing “late in the week or early next week.”
▪ Wednesday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler at Houston Astros RHP Chris Devenski, 1:05 p.m., West Palm Beach.
▪ Thursday: Marlins LHP Adam Conley at New York Mets RHP Robert Gsellman, 1:10 p.m., Port St. Lucie.