Marlins’ Ross on pace for breakout year

By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Sports Writer

MIAMI (AP) — 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.”

Received 05/26/10 01:10 pm ET