JUPITER, Fla. — The Miami Marlins’ Opening Day roster continued to take shape before Thursday’s Grapefruit League game.
Miami optioned outfielder Jake Marisnick after a close race for roster spots. Marisnick competed with Marcell Ozuna for the starting center-field job.
Marisnick, 22, was 19 for 44 (.432) with five doubles, a triple and four RBI this spring. He also had four steals with four walks and five strikeouts.
Ozuna, 23, entered Thursday hitting just .164 (9 for 55) with five doubles, two homers and six RBI.
"We sent Jake down, and that was a tough one," said manager Mike Redmond, who has coached Marisnick since the outfielder was 19 in the Blue Jays organization. "You’ve got a guy who had a great spring, and we have all talked over the course (of it), how do you evaluate spring training? At the end of the day we went around and around with this guy trying to make the right decision.
"There’s no doubt Ozo hasn’t had a great spring, so that made the decision even harder, but we all just felt Jake needed to go down there and continue to play. There’s no doubt he’s the center fielder of the future for us. He’s got a lot of weapons, he can do a lot. We just feel like he needs to continue to go down there and get some more at-bats, so that day when he comes it’s for good and he’s out there every single day."
Both players made their major-league debuts in 2013.
Ozuna earned his call-up last April when Giancarlo Stanton went on the disabled list. He immediately sparked the club by hitting .330 in May and adding 15 RBI in June. He recorded eight assists.
Ozuna’s numbers tailed off, however, and the Marlins demoted him to Double-A Jacksonville (Southern League) before discovering he had suffered a broken thumb on a diving catch. He finished with a .265 average, 17 doubles, four triples, three homers and 32 RBI over 70 games.
In late July, Marisnick went hitless in his first 14 at-bats upon his call-up. His struggles continued as he batted .183 with two doubles, a triple, a home run and five RBI in 40 games. He had offseason knee surgery to correct a nagging injury.
"This is that one where you get caught up looking at spring training numbers and we loved what Ozo brought to our team last year — his energy, power, and we’re looking at run producers," Redmond said. "We need guys to drive in runs. We feel like he’s put a lot of pressure on himself this spring. Hopefully now, he’ll be able to relax and play. We’ll let him go out there and see what he can do."
That leaves Ozuna and Brian Bogusevic, whom the Marlins acquired from the Cubs for Justin Ruggiano, battling for the starting job. Bogusevic is hitting .174 and is out of options.
Ed Lucas won the utility spot over Solano, but sustained a non-displaced fracture of his left hand on a Scott McGregor pitch in the eighth inning. Solano will take his place to start the season.
Lucas, who spent 10 seasons in the minors before his MLB debut last year, is hitting .333 with a double, a triple, a homer and five RBI in 13 spring games.
The 31 year old missed a few days with a hamstring injury. As a rookie, he finished .256 with four homers and 28 RBI in 94 games.
Solano, 26, was last season’s opening day starting second baseman. He kept pace with Lucas, hitting .313 with four doubles and six RBI in 19 games. In 2013, Solano played in 102 games, going .249 with three homers and 34 RBI. He led the Marlins with a .316 RISP average.
"At the end, it just comes down to Eddie Lucas is more versatile, he can play first, he can play the outfield, he’s an emergency catcher if we need him," Redmond said. "We can just do a couple of other things. They both had great springs. Solano is a great young infielder that can do a lot of different things, and the beauty is he’s still in our system and still available to us if we need him down the road."
Non-roster invitees and right-handed relievers Chris Hatcher and Henry Rodriguez were reassigned to minor-league camp.
Hatcher, 29, was previously on the 40-man roster but surrendered 13 runs (12 earned) in just 8 2/3 frames last season before the Marlins cut him. This spring, he pitched nine shutout innings.
Rodriguez, 27, got off to a strong start, allowing just one run over his first five outings before giving up five combined in his past two appearances.
"I think it came down to a few things," Redmond said of Rodriguez. "He’s been banged up the past couple of years, and I think he’s a guy we would love to keep in the system and pitch and get himself back into good throwing condition and get some innings with him. This guy’s got an amazing arm. He’s throwing 100 mph. The role we see him in having so many young pitchers, we need guys down there that can throw multiple innings, and we just don’t feel right now he’s able to do that."
Outfielder Matt Angle as well as infielders Juan Diaz and Austin Nola also were reassigned to minor-league camp.
The Marlins roster was at 27 and must be reduced by two by Sunday’s deadline.
"It was tough," Redmond said. "We’ve talked about it all spring — a lot of tough decisions — and believe me, we’ve gone around and around as a group and staff and tried to make these decisions for the best of this ballclub going forward for opening day."