Marlins click all around to start 2014 season on a very high note
MIAMI — Hours before Opening Night, Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill made a statement bold enough to match the bright orange jerseys his players would wear in front of 37,116 — a sellout crowd and the largest in Marlins Park history.
Asked when he believed the club could compete for a postseason spot, Hill didn’t hesitate with his answer.
"First pitch. That’s our goal," Hill said. "I actually like it when people don’t pick us. I like flying under the radar because I know the 25 guys in that clubhouse believe in one another. I believe in the talent in that clubhouse and anything can happen when you have good pitching and you get timely hitting. That’s our expectation."
The Marlins executed both in a 10-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night.
Reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez picked up where he left off last season, allowing just one run — a solo shot to Carlos Gonzalez — and five hits over six innings.
Fernandez (1-0) struck out nine batters to tie Josh Beckett’s franchise mark for most Ks in a season opener. He walked none. Thirty-four of his first 39 pitches went for strikes.
After giving up back-to-back singles to Michael Cuddyer and Gonzalez in the first, the 21-year-old retired the next 10. And it all came in front of his grandmother, Olga, who last saw him pitch in Cuba when he was 14 years old.
"It was amazing. When I struck out a guy everybody was throwing a K up," said Fernandez, who became the youngest NL pitcher to start on Opening Day since 1986. "Our fans are incredible. To come out and support us Opening Day is fun and our team appreciates that a lot."
But it looked like more of the same from the offense through two innings.
Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (0-1) sent down the first six batters in order until center fielder Marcell Ozuna blasted a 3-1 pitch for a leadoff home run to left in the third.
Yes, Ozuna, the 23-year-old who held the lowest spring batting average (.177) among Miami’s starters. He played more like the rookie who sparked a troubled offense with Giancarlo Stanton on the disabled list last season.
Ozuna would fall a triple shy of the cycle and scored three runs. He credits Fernandez for talking him through his struggles.
"I was just trying to play the game and excited for my first Opening Day," Ozuna said. "Play the game right and help my team. When I see the people throwing a no-hitter I wanted to break it. He helped me. We’re good teammates and me and him get along pretty well hanging out. He’s one of the best people I know in my life."
In a five-run fifth, Ozuna led off with a double to right and scored on Adeiny Hechavarria’s single up the middle. Following a sacrifice bunt, an infield single and hit batter loaded the bases for slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
His swing may have been big, but the ball took a dip on the grass and Wilton Lopez was late to cover first. It scored a run on the infield hit. Casey McGehee cleared the bases with a double.
McGehee’s the same guy who was exiled to Japan last year after his MLB stats progressively declined since 2010. It took him several months before he could watch big-league games that aired in the Far East last season.
"It’s always nice to be able to help contribute to a game that you win and you want to do it early to be able and relax a little bit," McGehee said. "It’s a long season, there are going to be ups and downs, so while this one was a good start, tomorrow it doesn’t matter. Got to come back tomorrow as a group with the same intensity and focus and take tomorrow for what it is and put today behind us."
Since rebranding as the Miami Marlins, the club had scored just once in two openers. Last season, the Chicago White Sox produced 85 more runs over 162 games as the second-worst offense.
Miami scored double-digit runs only four times in 2013. Batters hit .231 with runners in scoring position in a historically bad season. The Marlins were 24-35 in one-run games and shut out 18 times.
On Monday, they went 8 for 15 with runners in scoring position. All but Jeff Baker and Garrett Jones collected a hit.
"That just shows you when the lights come on that’s when you see the most of your ballclub," manager Mike Redmond said. "Tonight it was exciting. Great crowd, great energy, fans were into it."
For the first time since June 16, 2012, the Marlins are over .500. Fernandez sees the potential of this club.
Hill had talked about it hours earlier. The mindset of winning was established in the clubhouse Day 1 of spring training. Championship-caliber play isn’t just accepted, it’s expected.
"This team is special, and I see that," Fernandez said. "Not because we scored 10 runs today but this team is going to fight. We’re going to go out there and really try to give ourselves a chance to win ballgames."