Jefferson City, MO 72° View Live Radar Tue H 88° L 71° Wed H 87° L 70° Thu H 85° L 70° Weather Sponsored By:

For Marlins, winning might be just beginning

For Marlins, winning might be just beginning

July 2nd, 2013 in News

MIAMI (AP) - Turning to make a pickoff throw, Jose Fernandez stumbled and fell, spiraling to the dirt like a human corkscrew as his throw went sailing for an embarrassing error.

The Miami Marlins rookie rose smiling. It's easier to shrug off the occasional pratfall with a grin when you win, and after a humiliating start this season, the Marlins have found their footing.

Miami began a trip this week far from first, but no longer worst. After a 13-41 start that inspired comparisons to the 1962 Mets and other historically awful teams, the Marlins reversed course with a 17-10 tear.

By beating San Diego for the third game in a row Monday, the Marlins climbed ahead of the Houston Astros in the race to avoid baseball's lousiest record. With another 22 victories in a row, the Marlins would be above .500. They might even win more games this year than the Miami Heat - in the regular season, at least.

"Winning's way better than losing," first baseman Logan Morrison said. "Somebody who's pretty wise once said that."

The Marlins' miserable start, worst-in-the-majors attendance and $37-million payroll has made them easy to overlook. But with an abundance of young talent, the winning might just be beginning.

The 20-year-old Fernandez briefly looked like a rookie making his clumsy pickoff move Monday, but with 94 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.72, he might be bound for the All-Star Game. Or perhaps the Marlins' representative will be 22-year-old rookie center fielder Marcell Ozuna, who leads the team in hits even though he spent the first month of the season in Double-A.

Rookie infielders Derek Dietrich and Ed Lucas were called up in May to further revive a feeble offense, and rookie shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria has played Gold Glove-caliber defense.

"We've had some changes definitely for the good," outfielder Justin Ruggiano said. "It's fun coming to the ballpark. Every game we feel like we can win."

There have been young reinforcements for the rotation, too. Jacob Turner, a 22-year-old right-hander, started the season in Triple-A after a disappointing spring but has regained his command and gone 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in six starts, including a complete game Saturday. Nate Eovaldi, a 23-year-old right-hander, is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts after missing the first part of the season because of shoulder inflammation.

The trio of Fernandez, Turner and Eovaldi form the foundation of a rotation that thrifty owner Jeffrey Loria considers ideal - talented but cheap.

"That group of young pitchers is impressive," Padres manager Bud Black said. "The Marlins have got to be real happy with those guys."

The rotation becomes even younger when 23-year-old Henderson Alvarez makes his 2013 debut Thursday in Atlanta after being sidelined by shoulder inflammation. With Alvarez healthy again, the Marlins are almost certain to trade right-hander Ricky Nolasco, their career leader in victories and by far their highest-paid player at $11.5 million.

Less certain is the status of 23-year-old right-fielder Giancarlo Stanton, the 2012 NL slugging leader. Unhappy about the Marlins' payroll purge last year, he started the season poorly, then missed five weeks with a strained right hamstring.

Stanton's tape-measure homers draw scant attention in Miami, and because he longs to play in his native California, there's speculation he'll be traded rather than sign a long-term contract. In the meantime, he regained his stroke and provides much-needed pop for a team that still ranks last in the majors in runs, homers, slugging and on-base percentage.

"Having Giancarlo back really helps," Morrison said. "Not that he's old, but he has been around for a while. And he's a great hitter. Any publicity he gets, if he was playing for the Dodgers or Yankees, he'd get 10 times as much."

The Marlins could be grateful for any lack of attention in April and May, when they played like laughingstocks. A slew of injuries contributed to the dismal situation, and things got so bad veteran Miguel Olivo quit one day after batting practice, deciding he'd rather retire than be a third-string catcher for the team with the worst record in the majors.

"The first couple of months were rough," rookie manager Mike Redmond said. "We weren't really in that many games."

But 2013 was never about the won-loss record. All that matters is how the youngsters plays, and on that score the season has been a success.

More top prospects are on the way, with outfielders Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick expected to break into the big leagues sometime after the All-Star break. The Marlins may be far out of first place, but there's a sense the roller-coaster franchise is headed upward.

"Let's fly under the radar as long as we can," Ruggiano said.

In Miami, that shouldn't be too tough.