Rafael Furcal, a 13-year major league veteran, said he never considered retiring while recovering from right elbow ligament replacement surgery last season.
Furcal, 35, is not only out to prove he is healthy, but to do so while playing a new position. He will switch from shortstop to second base in his first year with the Miami Marlins.
"I'm 36 years old, but I feel I still can play baseball," said Furcal, who was with the St. Louis Cardinals last March when he underwent Tommy John surgery. "I talked to guys who had Tommy John, and ... they now feel they are stronger than ever."
After signing a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Miami, Furcal is spending this spring working out at second base, a position he played just 36 times in his 1,590 major league games. He last saw action at second base, playing there for two innings, in 2004.
"Infield is infield," Furcal said, downplaying the switch.
Marlins infield coach Perry Hill, who has spent 18 years teaching major-leaguers, says the toughest move for middle infielders is to go from shortstop to second base.
"Everything you do at shortstop is in front of you," Hill said. "Every ground ball, every double-play pivot, every double-play feed. You can see everything.
"More than half of what you do at second base is behind you. ... The only thing that's easier is there's usually a shorter throw."
Furcal, who has played some second base over the years in winter ball, said his biggest challenge is locating the runner when turning the double play.
Furcal suffered a strained ligament in his right elbow late in the 2012 season, missing the Cardinals' run to the NL Championship Series. He entered last spring with high hopes, but the discomfort returned and his season was over.
The Marlins were convinced that the three-time All-Star (2003, 2010, 2012) not only could help on the field but also in the clubhouse.
"I loved him as a player, loved playing against him," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "He's a vocal guy. He's not afraid to say something when he needs to say something."
The Marlins plugged second base last season primarily with two journeymen, Donovan Solano and Derek Dietrich. Both are battling for a bench spot this season.
Furcal also is expected to top Miami's batting order. Last year, the Marlins' leadoff hitters had the worst batting average (.229) and on-base percentage (.282) in the majors. Furcal is a .284 career leadoff hitter with a .349 on-base percentage.
"We need him to stay healthy, we need him to get on base for (right fielder Giancarlo) Stanton and the middle of the order," Redmond said.
--2B Rafael Furcal and INF Jeff Baker might be able return to action during the weekend of March 14-16. Furcal left the March 10 game with a sore left hamstring, while Baker left the same game with a sore left quadriceps.
--RHP Henderson Alvarez made a strong spring debut March 7, tossing three scoreless innings against St. Louis. He was supposed to go just two innings, but he was so efficient, he threw one more.
Alvarez, who tossed a no-hitter in the Marlins' final game of 2013, missed his first spring start after having an infection in his right shin drained on Feb. 25.
"For a guy who has been out really all spring training, he sure didn't show it," manager Mike Redmond said. "I was just happy the way he threw everything for strikes, good pace, good tempo."
--RHP Tom Koelher appeared to have the edge in the competition for the Marlins' fifth starting pitcher as of March 11. In his March 9 start, he tossed four scoreless innings, giving him a 1.29 ERA over seven innings in three games (two starts).
"We talked about opportunity and we talked about guys wanting it, and he's gone out there and pitched the way that he needs to pitch," manager Mike Redmond said. "That spot is going to be big for us, and he's definitely gone out there and done what he's needed to do at this point."
--For the first time this spring on March 9, manager Mike Redmond played a starting lineup whose core likely will be the one used on Opening Day.
In a 3-1 loss to Detroit, Miami's starting lineup was 2B Rafael Furcal, LF Christian Yelich, RF Giancarlo Stanton, 1B Garrett Jones, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, CF Marcell Ozuna, 3B Casey McGehee, DH Greg Dobbs and SS Adeiny Hechavarria.
"Going into spring training, I targeted right around this time to start ramping guys up and getting them in there back-to-back days," manager Mike Redmond said. "We have quite a few new guys. I want guys to get a feel for playing together as soon as possible."
--LHP Brad Hand (March 15) and RHP Nathan Eovaldi (March 16) will start the Marlins' two games in Panama against the Yankees. Miami will arrive in Panama on Friday night. Among the players making the trip are RF Giancarlo Stanton, LF Christian Yelich, C Jeff Mathis, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, 1B Garret Jones, INF Derek Dietrich and OF Jake Marisnick. The relievers include RHP Steve Cishek and RHP A.J. Ramos.
--RF Giancarlo Stanton hit his first spring home run March 9 in his 20th Grapefruit League at-bat. He connected in the fourth inning off Detroit's Rick Porcello, a long shot that bounced off the Marlins' clubhouse building beyond left field. He followed that a day later with a two-run home run against the Mets. Stanton led the team with 24 home runs in 2013, his lowest home run total since he belted 22 in 100 games in his rookie season of 2010.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That was the best I've seen him, probably maybe even including last year during the regular season. He looked like he had command of his off-speed pitches and pounded the strike zone." -- Manager Mike Redmond, on LHP Brian Flynn, who tossed three scoreless innings March 11 in his first Grapefruit League start. Flynn is competing for a rotation spot.
RHP Jose Fernandez
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Henderson Alvarez
RHP Jacob Turner
RHP Tom Koehler
Two rotation spots are up for grabs. At age 21, Fernandez, the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, is the ace on a rotation lacking in depth. Alvarez (5-6, 3.99 in 2013) ended the season with a no-hitter, but he and Eovaldi (4-6, 3.99) need to make strides after inconsistent seasons. All three are locks. After that, Koehler and Turner are the leading candidates for the final spots. Koehler, though, could open the season as a long reliever.
LHPs Brian Flynn and Brad Hand are options, along with veteran RHP Kevin Slowey, a non-roster invitee, to plug gaps if Turner and Koehler struggle this spring.
RHP Steve Cishek (closer)
RHP A.J. Ramos
LHP Mike Dunn
RHP Carlos Marmol
RHP Carter Capps
RHP Arquimedes Caminero or RHP Kevin Slowey
LHP Dan Jennings
Cishek (34-for-36 in save chances last year) is firmly in place as the closer, with Ramos and Dunn setting up. Marmol, who threw 96 mph in the Caribbean Series, will compete for the setup role, but he needs to prove his control issues are behind him. Capps is the fourth lock. Two spots are up for grabs, with candidates including Slowey in a long-relief role, Jennings amd Caminero.
1. 2B Rafael Furcal
2. LF Christian Yelich
3. RF Giancarlo Stanton
4. 1B Garrett Jones
5. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
6. 3B Casey McGehee
7. CF Marcell Ozuna
8. SS Adeiny Hechavarria
The Marlins are gambling that new faces will help offer protection to Stanton, who is coming off a subpar year. Jones hit 15 home runs last year in a platoon role for Pittsburgh, and Saltalamacchia hit 14 homers for Boston. McGehee is a bigger gamble; he hit 28 home runs in 2013 -- in Japan. Furcal missed all of last season recovering from elbow surgery.
TOP ROOKIES: LHP Andrew Heaney, the organization's top prospect, should open the year at Double-A Jacksonville, but a call-up in 2014 isn't out of the question. Heaney, 22, went a combined 9-3 with a 1.60 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) in Class A and Double-A last year.
LHP Justin Nicolino, who could join Heaney in the majors this year, might open the year at Triple-A New Orleans. Nicolino, 22, finished 8-4 with a 3.11 ERA in 27 starts in Class A and Double-A in 2013.
3B Colin Moran, the Marlins' top draft pick last year, will open the season at Class A level but will start the year in major league camp. He is at least a year away.
--RHP Henderson Alvarez (right shin infection) missed his scheduled March 2 start, but he returned to action March 7.
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