Vazquez looks for new beginning with Marlins

By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Sports Writer

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — 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.”

Received 02/18/11 03:52 pm ET