Marlins start camp talking playoffs

Before the first spring training workout even began, the Florida

Marlins were swinging for the fences.

“We expect to make the playoffs,” catcher John Baker said. “I

know that’s the cliche thing. That’s what you hear out of every

spring training from every team. Everyone is going to win the World

Series right now. But we’ve been getting closer and closer.”

The Marlins’ payroll has been creeping up in recent years, with

a corresponding rise in the win total. Pitchers and catchers took

the field to begin drills Saturday with high expectations, from

team president David Samson on down.

That included such newcomers as reliever Derrick Turnbow, who

hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since May 2008.

“This team always gives people fits,” Turnbow said. “They’re

always making a playoff run at the end. It’s a young team with a

lot of talent. I hope I can be a part of it.”

The Marlins climbed from 71 wins in 2007 to 84 to 2008 and 87

last year, when they finished six games behind league champion

Philadelphia in the NL East. The core of the team returns intact,

including NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez, NL Rookie of the Year

Chris Coghlan and All-Star right-hander Josh Johnson.

Payroll will top $40 million for the first time since 2005, and

Samson has said a postseason berth is the expected payoff. Fredi

Gonzalez returns to begin his fourth year as manager, and he

shrugged off the notion higher expectations mean more pressure for

the Marlins.

“The taste of going from 71 wins in ’07 and then making

improvements, it’s a good experience for them to keep going,”

Gonzalez said.

However, then Gonzalez said: “People don’t realize in any sport

how hard it is to improve, even just three wins.”

More progress likely will be needed to crack the postseason for

the first time since the Marlins won the World Series in 2003. And

it’s hard to say where that improvement might be found.

The Marlins acquired not one player assured of making the

roster. There are three spots to be claimed in the rotation and at

least that many in the bullpen.

But with 32 pitchers in camp, president of baseball operations

Larry Beinfest figures the jobs won’t go begging. He sees better

pitching as the path to the playoffs.

“If we need to win an additional five to six games – because

basically we need to be in the low 90s to be considered for

qualification – I think we can do it with our pitching,” Beinfest

said. “That’s where I think we can pick up those games –

improvement in the starting pitching and consistency.”

Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are the only pitchers assured of

starting jobs. Competing for the other three slots will be

right-handers Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad, Rick VandenHurk and

Hayden Penn, and left-handers Andrew Miller and Sean West, with

none older than 25.

“You know what you’re going to get from Josh and Ricky,”

second baseman Dan Uggla said. “The other kids have as high a

ceiling as you can have. I think they’re mature enough that they’re

going to step up and help those other two guys carry us into the

postseason.”

There will be a similar scramble for spots in the bullpen. The

Marlins brought in several veteran relievers trying to revive their

careers, including former closers Turnbow and Mike MacDougal.

“We have a lot of guys in camp battling for jobs,” Gonzalez

said. “Competition is good, not only in athletics but in the real

world. It brings out the best in people.”

While position players aren’t due to report until Tuesday,

several arrived early to begin working out, including Uggla,

Coghlan and center fielder Cameron Maybin. All said the high

expectations entering spring training were warranted, and they were

eager to begin.

“It’s like, man, it has finally started,” Coghlan said.

“We’re excited.”