4/30/2014 7:17 P.M. ET
Marlins mindful of risks of head-first slides
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
MIAMI -- Sliding head-first may be risky business, but the Marlins aren't encouraging their players to avoid doing it at all cost.
Head-first sliding again is a hot topic in the game in light of thumb injuries that have sidelined Washington's Bryce Harper and Los Angeles' Josh Hamilton.
"You can't take the enthusiasm and the way somebody plays away from them," said Brett Butler, the Marlins' third-base and baserunning coach. "I used to dive head-first into bases and stuff. I used to tear up my knees. I'd jam a finger every once in a while. You have to make a decision of what you think works best for you."
In 2012, the Marlins suffered a sliding setback when Emilio Bonifacio sustained a thumb injury, jamming his finger on second base on a stolen-base attempt.
Butler said he encourages players to do something to protect themselves. Perhaps hold batting gloves in their hands, like former Miami outfielder Juan Pierre. And when sliding head-first into first base, Butler noted to do so if the first baseman is reaching up to catch the ball.
Marlins general manager Dan Jennings believes players are hurting themselves by sliding too close to the base.
"Sometimes guys may wait a little long to slide, and they end up jamming into the base instead of sliding," Jennings said.
But overall, Jennings agrees with Butler that players can't be forced to do something they don't feel comfortable doing.
"It's just a hustle effort on the way some of these guys play," Jennings said. "In Josh's case, that's a case of that's who he is. It's the mindset he has played with forever. It's hard to get guys out of who they truly are. It's unfortunate because baseball wants the best players on the field."
Stanton showing what he can do when healthy
MIAMI -- No longer can Giancarlo Stanton be labeled a "slow starter."
If anything, Stanton has made a strong case to be the National League Player of the Month for April.
After belting a two-run homer in Tuesday's 9-0 win over the Braves, the 24-year-old slugger set a Marlins record for RBIs in March/April. He now has 31, breaking Moises Alou's previous mark of 30 set in 1997.
In recent years, Stanton has had rough going in the first month, but that was largely due to injuries that plagued him in Spring Training. For instance, he had just nine RBIs in April last year.
Stanton has stepped up with eight homers the first month, and he's showing the raw talent that has many believing he can become the most feared power hitter in the game.
"I'm staying relaxed," Stanton said of his first-month success.
Since the start of Spring Training, Stanton has made it clear he doesn't want to spend much time talking about his successes. Instead, he prefers to let his results do the talking.
"I'm not worried about [April numbers]," the right fielder said. "It's pretty cool actually. But it's just April. We've got to keep it going."
Stanton's career high for RBIs in a season is 87, set in 2011. A year ago, he finished with 62. He already has half of that total.
Previously, Stanton's best overall RBI month was in May 2012, when he was the NL Player of the Month, batting .343 with 12 homers and 30 RBIs.
The Marlins actually have two players worthy of monthly honors, Stanton and Jose Fernandez, a candidate for NL Pitcher of the Month.
"He seems like he's having a lot of fun," Fernandez said. "He's laughing, enjoying this game. When he's like that, he's unstoppable."
Fernandez even more dangerous with changeup
MIAMI -- Add a hard changeup to the list of what opposing hitters have to worry about when facing Jose Fernandez.
In Miami's 9-0 win over the Braves on Tuesday night, Fernandez estimates he threw close to 30 changeups. But they weren't your usual circle changeup; they often were buzzing in around 90 mph. One time the Marlins right-hander looked at the radar reading, and his changeup was 93 mph.
He muttered to himself, "That's too hard."
After striking out 14 Braves at Atlanta last week, Fernandez followed catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia's plan on Tuesday, and mixed in more offspeed pitches. In all, he threw 98 pitches and allowed two hits in eight scoreless innings
"It's been a while since I've seen a 90-mph changeup," manager Mike Redmond said. "You see what it does to hitters. Guys are geared up for 97, and nobody wants the slider. The next thing you know you get a changeup. It looks like the bottom kind of drops off. It's a huge weapon."
Fernandez's strikeouts were down to eight, but he was efficient and effective.
In his start at Atlanta, he threw two changeups. On Tuesday, 18 changeups were recorded, but the total may be closer to 30 because not all the readings were easily detected. To some scouts, the changeup sank like a two-seam fastball.
"I threw a lot," Fernandez said. "More than I've ever thrown before. I'm impressed I threw that many. I'm just throwing it. I was trying to throw it low, and hopefully it does what it is supposed to."
According to Fangraphs.com, Fernandez's changeup velocity averages 89.1 mph, and he is throwing it 7.5 percent of the time. A year ago, the velocity was 86.7 mph.
Typically, an eight-to-10 mph difference from a fastball is a good changeup speed. Fernandez is averaging 95 mph with his fastball this year.
"As he starts seeing these lineups more times ... he's at four starts against the Braves over the last two years," Redmond said. "That number will go up. That's the key. When you go into your division, teams will start seeing you a lot of times. The key is to have an answer."
• Redmond had a discussion with Fernandez regarding his groundout to short in the third inning Tuesday night. Feeling he was an easy out, Fernandez jogged slowly to first after Andrelton Simmons bobbled the ball. The Marlins ended up getting three runs in the inning, with two coming on Giancarlo Stanton's homer.
Fernandez is known for playing the game hard and giving plenty of effort and energy. But on the slow grounder, he had a rare moment where he trotted to first. He even received a smattering of boos.
Redmond spoke to the Miami pitcher about the situation.
"Just keep it consistent," Redmond said. "Nobody is expecting the pitcher to run a 4.0 down the first-base line. It's just to be consistent every time out of the box. That's what I told him. We don't need you to run as hard as you can out of the box on a ground ball to second base when you know you're out. I think it's more of being consistent on how you run. There are going to be times you might beat a ball out.
"At the end of the day, it's his game. If he gets on base, he has the ability to score a run. He's fine with it."
• Rafael Furcal will go on a rehab assignment this weekend at Triple-A New Orleans. Furcal is on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain. But he recently suffered a right groin strain at Double-A Jacksonville and shut down his rehab stint there.