Marlins’ Ross on pace for breakout year

Cody Ross got an immediate lesson in how baseball can be

humbling.

It’s September 2003. Ross gets called up by the Detroit Tigers

on a Monday. Hits the first home run of his career, a grand slam no

less, off Cliff Lee the next day. Beats out a sacrifice bunt five

innings later, tearing his left knee while hustling to first base.

Gets carried off on a flatbed cart and doesn’t see the major

leagues again for nearly two years.

The ups and downs of the game, all personified in the span of

about five innings.

Ross has long recovered, but hasn’t forgotten.

These days, baseball has been pretty much one big upswing for

Ross, the Florida Marlins’ right fielder who wears his socks high,

swings hard and is on pace for a big year. His .308 average

entering Wednesday against Atlanta is tied with Ronny Paulino for

the team lead, 38 points higher than his previous career-best for a

full season.

“My confidence level, it’s up there,” Ross said, beaming at

his locker. “I feel good about every part of my game right now. I

think you have to. If you don’t here, you’re going to just get

eaten up. When you step in that box, you’ve got to know you’re

going to get the job done and you have to feel that you’re going to

get the job done. Otherwise, you’re going to get beat every

time.”

He’s not getting beat often.

A more matured approach at the plate is working for Ross this

season, whose power numbers are a bit down – one homer every 42.3

at-bats so far this season, as opposed to one every 21 in 2008,

then one every 23.3 in 2009 – but is delivering more consistently

than ever before.

Maybe the best example of that came Tuesday night against the

Braves.

Marlins up by one, two runners on, eighth inning, many of those

who remained in a meager crowd announced at about 11,000 chanting

his name, “Co-dy! Co-dy! Co-dy!”

In past years, that would have been the only urging Ross would

need before trying to drill a mammoth homer.

Not this time, though. Instead, he took Atlanta reliever Jesse

Chavez to right with a perfectly placed opposite-field double, deep

enough to score both runners and the Marlins eventually held on to

win 6-4.

“Cody getting those add-on runs, they were big,” Marlins

manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Ross was ebullient afterward, with good reason.

“That’s where I am as a player now,” Ross said. “When you’re

young, you’re trying to do too much. Maybe a couple years ago, I’m

trying to hit a home run instead of hitting the ball the other

way.”

Ross says he’s more comfortable than ever, and it’s showing.

He’s batting .369 at home this season, eighth-best in the majors,

and Gonzalez is touting him as someone worthy of All-Star

consideration – even though Ross is hitting .247 away from

home.

“That’s just the game of baseball,” Gonzalez said. “I can’t

explain why.”

Hitting .353 so far in May, Ross is having his best month at the

plate since batting .381 with five home runs in 63 at-bats during

September 2007.

And as he goes, so do the Marlins, it seems.

When Ross has at least one RBI this season, Florida is a

staggering 14-2. When he doesn’t, the Marlins are 10-19. In

Marlins’ victories, he’s hitting .370, as opposed to an average of

.234 so far in losses this season.

On a team where opponents are leery of challenging All-Star

shortstop Hanley Ramirez and while hitting behind Dan Uggla – who

came into Wednesday tied for the NL lead with 12 home runs – Ross

is reaping the benefits.

“It goes back to me progressing as a player, being more

patient,” Ross said. “I’m taking what they give me.”