What a difference: Marlins showing growth in season’s first month

MIAMI — A year go, Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee was playing in Japan. Left fielder Christian Yelich was still months away from his major-league debut. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi was on the disabled list and had to watch games from the dugout.

Though the Miami Marlins find themselves once again last in the National League East with one month of the season completed, there is a completely different aura surrounding the team.

Eovaldi tossed seven innings of one-run ball, and the offense pounded out 15 hits in a 9-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night at Marlins Park.

Miami improved to 13-14 with its second straight blowout win over the NL East leaders. Play the "What If" game during the month’s eight-game losing streak and the Marlins never would have had to battle back from four games below .500.

In 2013, the club didn’t pick up win No. 13 until May 20 — the 45th game of the season — en route to the second 100-loss season in franchise history.

"I guess that would be an understatement to say it’s a better feeling than last year," second-year manager Mike Redmond said. "When you see these games and play these games, we know the guys we brought in we targeted for a reason, and you’re not sure how fast it’s going to come together.

"I think we had a great spring training and we talked about getting out the chute quick and we still have a long ways to go, but I really like the energy and the way this team’s coming together and the confidence. At the same time, too, we’ve had a few rough losses there. It’s a resilient group that’s able to bounce back whether we win big or lose a close game. We’re able to come back. That’s a good sign of a team, and we’re starting to see the makeup of this ballclub come forward."

Marlins vs. Braves

Look no further then how the bats adjusted to righty Aaron Harang, who surrendered just one run over six innings to the Marlins last week.

Miami produced a four-run second, punctuated by Marcell Ozuna’s three-run homer. The Marlins opened the frame with four consecutive hits.

Three key offseason additions got things started when McGehee singled to left and Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled to center. With runners at the corners, Garrett Jones drove one in with a two-strike single to right. Ozuna sent a 2-2 pitch over the right-center wall.

Harang entered the game having given up just three runs in 31 2/3 innings over five starts for a 0.85 ERA — lowest in the majors. It was his first home run allowed.

The Marlins manufactured a run in the third when Giancarlo Stanton led off with a double, McGehee grounded out to second and Saltalamacchia worked a sacrifice fly.

Yelich extended the lead to 7-0 in the fourth on his first homer of the season — a two-run shot to right-center. Adeiny Hechavarria had tripled with one out.

McGehee just missed out on his first long ball of the season to start the fifth when it hit off the top of the right-field wall. Saltalamacchia singled before Jones got a sacrifice fly. After Ozuna singled, Hechavarria capped the scoring with a double.

"It’s been ups and downs," said McGehee, who has driven in 16 runs and played in all 27 games. "I like this team a lot. I think this team is still building. I think it’s still going in the right direction. Even the good stretches that we’ve had I don’t think we’ve seen this team at its best yet, especially from a consistency standpoint. I put myself in the same category. Trying to get that consistency to sustain itself."

Five players finished with multi-hit games. Every position player collected at least one hit.

Through 27 contests, the Marlins have knocked 25 homers — 13 more than this point last year. They have been held scoreless just twice compared with four times over the first month of 2013.

After scoring just four runs over last week’s three-game series in Atlanta, Miami has put up 18 against Atlanta for the most in a two-game span. The Marlins are averaging 4.7 runs per game this season; it’s a far cry from last year, when the offense averaged just 2.7 runs over the first month.

Riding the momentum of Jose Fernandez’s performance Tuesday, Eovaldi allowed just one hit — a leadoff double to Jason Heyward in the first — until a pair of extra-base hits in the sixth. Heyward drove in Andrelton Simmons with an RBI double following the latter’s leadoff triple.

"We’re trying to get a win streak going," said Eovaldi, who scattered three hits and struck out five. "We just try to keep it going and win as many in a row as we can."

With many moving parts — just two of Miami’s 2013 Opening Day starters were in the lineup on Wednesday — Redmond knew it would take time for the club to gel.

"It’s just guys are starting to settle in, they’re getting more and more comfortable," Redmond said. "I think now we’ve got a month under our belt they’ve settled in and relaxed. We’ve got quite a few new guys that are trying to get comfortable, and I think you’re seeing it.

"We feel so confident right now, and that’s good. We’ve been getting some great pitching and we’ve been having some great at-bats. The focus and energy — guys are playing hard, running out balls. You can just see the energy. That’s good. That’s exactly what we need."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.