Blame Marlins’ skid on poor clutch hitting

Ozzie Guillen gives himself a C-plus at best for the job he has

done with the Miami Marlins, and his lineup deserves an even lower

grade. When it comes to clutch hitting, the Marlins flunk too many

tests.

They batted .127 (8 for 63) with runners in scoring position

during a dismal homestand, which is the primary reason the Marlins

went 1-8. They began last week in a virtual tie for the NL East

lead, and they now begin a two-city trip seven games behind

division leader Washington.

”We’d better start hitting better if we want to win some

games,” Guillen said.

The Marlins rank near the bottom of the majors in runs, batting

average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. When they get

a runner to second or third, they’re even worse.

Miami is batting .218 with runners in scoring position,

third-worst in the majors. Logan Morrison (.149), John Buck (.171),

Omar Infante (.178) and Hanley Ramirez (.203) have all been awful

in those situations.

”Hopefully we turn it around quickly,” said leadoff hitter

Jose Reyes, who was stranded at third following a leadoff triple in

a 2-1 loss to Boston on Tuesday. ”One big hit is what we’re

looking for.”

One big hit is all the Marlins managed during a long stretch

last week when they went 1 for 33 with a runner at second or

third.

”Very poor hitting with men on base,” Guillen said. ”It has

been happening almost all year. What’s the reason? I don’t know.

It’s kind of funny, because we get people in scoring position and

then we shut down. I don’t think we panic, but we need to do

better.”

Transformed by an offseason spending spree and the move into

their new ballpark, the Marlins expected to contend for a playoff

berth. In spring training, new manager Guillen touted his team as

well-balanced and ready to win.

But with 99 games to go, they’re barely above .500 (32-31),

which is why Guillen gives himself a grade of mediocre or

worse.

”C-plus or D,” he said, ”because I should be in first place

with this ballclub. I’ve got good players. I might not be getting

the best out of them. Not yet. Not consistently. Right now there

are a few players not responding the way they should, but I’m the

one that put them in the lineup, and I will take the blame.

”We have good enough talent to be consistent and compete. It’s

a little bit of a surprise, because I think we’re better than

this.”

In December, the Marlins signed All-Stars Reyes, Mark Buehrle

and Heath Bell to contracts worth a combined $191 million, but the

shopping binge may not have targeted enough offensive help. Buehrle

and Bell are pitchers, and Reyes isn’t an RBI man.

The Marlins came up short in courtships with Albert Pujols and

Yoenis Cespedes, leaving them with a group of holdover

run-producers who haven’t produced. Reyes has more RBIs (14) than

Gaby Sanchez or John Buck (13 each), an indication things aren’t

right with the lineup.

Roster shake-ups haven’t helped. Sanchez was exiled to Triple-A

for three weeks and has gone 2 for 15 since his return. Former NL

Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, hitting .140 in 93 at-bats, was

demoted after the homestand.

The biggest bright spot has been young slugger Giancarlo

Stanton, the NL Player of the Month for May, when he hit 12 home

runs. But teams increasingly pitch around him, and this month he’s

batting .222 with one homer.

The Marlins hit .196 overall during their homestand and were

outscored 56-17. Frustration peaked in the ninth inning Wednesday,

when Guillen had two testy exchanges with closer Bell, who lobbied

in vain to remain in the game with the Marlins trailing by eight

runs.

Both said they later patched up their differences.

”The way the team is playing, these little things are blown out

of proportion,” Bell said.

The way the team is playing has been wildly inconsistent. The

Marlins went 8-14 in April, then 21-8 in May for the best month in

franchise history. This month they’re 3-9.

”We hope it’s not April off, May on, June off,” team president

David Samson said.

A year ago the Marlins went 5-23 in June, then staggered to a

last-place finish. Expectations are higher now.

”This is a bummer,” Bell said. ”We know we’re a better team

than this. For whatever reason it didn’t show up this homestand. We

need to come together and start fighting again. We’re getting

punished. We’re getting knocked down. We just need to get up and

start punching again.”

Especially helpful would be more punch at the plate.