The Miami Marlins — trailing just the Atlanta Braves in the National League East — continue to surprise baseball as the second month of the season comes to a close.
No one has been around for it all as much as the broadcast duo of Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton.
Waltz, in his 10th year as the television play-by-play voice of the Marlins on FOX Sports Florida, is in his 20th consecutive year covering Major League Baseball.
FOX Sports Florida’s Christina De Nicola spoke with Waltz, whom you can follow on Twitter (@RichWaltz), about the 2014 Marlins. She’ll catch up with various members of the broadcast team throughout the season for insight on the club.
This interview was conducted on Sunday before the club left on its three-game road trip.
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: The Marlins are headed back to Washington, the start of their road struggles. How have you seen them evolve as a team since then?
RICH WALTZ: I think a couple of things. First, the rotation out of necessity with the loss of Jose (Fernandez), and even before he went down, is deeper and better. (Tom) Koehler’s emergence, (Henderson) Alvarez, (Nathan) Eovaldi. (Jacob) Turner’s performance (Saturday) makes it a much deeper and better rotation. The lineup from that Washington series is probably getting contributions from guys that it wasn’t getting before. Obviously (Casey) McGehee is having a terrific year driving in runs, but Garrett Jones is red hot right now, and that’s a big deal. Anytime you can take pressure off of (Giancarlo) Stanton is a good thing.
FSF: Sticking with Jones. Some people mentioned during the offseason that his numbers were down last year, but he’s consistent. You knew what you were going to get with him. Is that what you’ve seen?
WALTZ: It’s hard to tell. It’s only two months in, but I think the impressive thing about Garrett over the last three weeks in this run is he’s driven the ball to center field and left-center a little bit, which is not something I remember from Pittsburgh. It’s not something we saw in the month of April. You give (hitting coach) Frank Menechino a lot of credit because that’s really what he’s preached from Day 1 in spring training — that kind of approach. You’ve got to give Garrett credit for making adjustments and going that way.
FSF: Going to the rotation, how huge was that moving forward for Turner to get that monkey off his back when he got that elusive win?
WALTZ: I think it’s enormous, and the next step for him is to get a win on the road. You can say all you want about ‘I pitched well and didn’t get great results,’ but it’s about wins. (Saturday) was a big step. I thought he threw the ball really well in San Francisco, too, and didn’t get a good result there. To get the win, that’s satisfying. That’s what it’s about.
FSF: On somewhat of a down note, with the eighth-inning struggles, how much longer can the club sustain what it’s doing and still put Ws in the column?
WALTZ: That’s a good question. The one thing about the bullpen is there are roles available. (Mike) Dunn and (A.J.) Ramos are pretty much the eighth-inning guys in a tag-team effort, and the seventh-inning guys as well. For a Dan Jennings or a Carter Capps or Chris Hatcher, all of a sudden if you come in and pitch well and throw strikes and pitch well, suddenly you’ll find yourself in a better spot. They were kind of handicapped with too many long men for a while with three. That’s hard on a manager because while having a long man is nice, when you need an out in the sixth or seventh, Mike (Redmond) doesn’t really have the ability to match up with situational lefties or righties. The good news is you’ve got a guy at the back (in Steve Cishek) who can get you four outs if you need four. The hope is your starting rotation gets you through the sixth or seventh.
FSF: Finally, the state of the team at the end of May. What have you seen? It seems they’ve been one of the surprises of baseball.
WALTZ: They have been. They’ve been very resilient. Even their record on the road is a little bit misleading because they’ve been in and lost close games. They’ve been very, very resilient. If you look at the areas they lacked last year — last in on-base percentage, last in slugging percentage, last in just about every offensive category — they’ve been in the top 5 of all those this year. You look at the areas they’ve plugged people in — McGehee at third, Jones at first, (Jarrod) Saltalamacchia behind the plate — the young kids are getting better. This team is right around .500. That’s an enormous step forward from last year. If they get to the end of July or into August a couple games over .500 then it’ll get really interesting because that’s when teams get hungry, when teams get hot. That’s an enormous step from a team that lost 100 and won only 62 last year.