Vazquez looks for new beginning with Marlins

Javier Vazquez knows what the knocks against him are.

Still gives up too many home runs. Has lost plenty of zip on his

fastball. Saw his ERA has a starter nearly double in a year, from

2.87 with Atlanta in 2009 to 5.56 with the Yankees last season.

At 34, Vazquez knows some think his best years are gone.

He disagrees – and fortunately for him, so do the Florida

Marlins. That’s why Vazquez has already been penciled into the No.

3 spot in their rotation behind Cy Young hopeful Josh Johnson and

14-game winner Ricky Nolasco.

”Last year was a tough year for me,” Vazquez said Friday in

the Marlins’ spring-training clubhouse, before the team headed

outside for its first formal pitchers-and-catchers workout of 2011.

”But I’ve had some other bad years. That’s not the only bad year

I’ve had. But you always forget about it, and this year is a new

one.”

He clearly needed a change of scenery, and the NL East seemed

like the right elixir.

Vazquez was 10-10 for the Yankees, two of those wins coming in

relief. His strikeout-to-walk ratio fell from 5.4-to-1 in 2009 to

1.9-to-1 last season. He gave up 32 home runs, the first Yankee to

do that since Randy Johnson in 2005, and his career total of homers

allowed rose to 352. Among players expected to pitch in the majors

this season, only knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has yielded more.

What was most troubling to the Yankees, however, was how

Vazquez’s velocity dipped.

After regularly topping out around 92 mph in 2009, Vazquez was

struggling at times to record anything faster than 89 mph on the

radar guns in New York.

”He’s going to be a great signing,” Marlins manager Edwin

Rodriguez said. ”Javier Vazquez wants to be in the National

League. It’s close to home. There’s a lot of people here that he

knows. He’s very comfortable here. With the rotation and the

chemistry of the team, he can fit in perfectly.”

He also wanted to play for Rodriguez.

Vazquez and Rodriguez share some deep bonds, the least of which

is that they hail from the same hometown – Ponce, Puerto Rico. The

Marlins formally reached out to Vazquez in the offseason, but the

deal really came together when Rodriguez called to personally ask

him to join the club.

That was all Vazquez needed to hear.

”It’s a great honor to play for Edwin,” Vazquez said. ”I’ve

known Edwin for a lot of years. … It feels good as a player that

you’re wanted somewhere. It was great. We had a great talk and I

told him that I did want to come here. It was a matter of getting

the details right with the organization and it worked out.”

Last season was the first time in 11 years where Vazquez didn’t

throw at least 198 innings. He’s a workhorse, having started at

least 26 games in each of his 13 seasons.

Consider: He’s started 411 games in his career. The rest of the

Marlins’ anticipated rotation – Johnson, Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez

and Chris Volstad – has a combined 373 starts.

”He’s going to be huge for us,” Volstad said Friday. ”I

haven’t actually met him yet. But when I do, he’s a guy I’ll be

asking a lot of questions, looking back on his career. I think

everyone’s excited he’s here.”

Vazquez faced a lot of the same questions two years ago.

He was 12-16 with a 4.67 ERA for the Chicago White Sox in 2008,

and little was really expected of him when he joined the Braves for

2009. But that season was a rebirth of sorts; he went 15-10 with

the 2.87 ERA, posting the second-highest strikeout total – 238 – of

his career.

History, he hopes, repeats itself in 2011.

”If guys want to ask me something or I can help out anybody,

that’s great, because I want to help people out,” Vazquez said.

”But I know we’ve got some guys here who can help me out,

too.”