Marlins using unique approach to pound zone

New pitching coach Stottlemyre implementing strings to get strikes

February 16th, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- There are definitely strings attached in the thought process to get the Marlins' pitchers ready during Spring Training.

Under the directive of new pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., strings are literally set up in front of the catchers to help pitchers get a better understanding of working within a strike zone.

The 36 pitchers in camp preparing for the season are in the process of getting used to throwing to a catcher who is behind the line of strings at the six warmup mounds aside Field 2 at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex.

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As a training tool, Stottlemyre intends to keep them up through Spring Training.

"If you can show your players that something is important to you, and you can get them to buy in, there is less resistance," Stottlemyre said. "It's part of our approach. I'm going to ask these guys to pitch to contact and to use the plate to work up and down, in and out, on the plate. I have to give them a reference, and I have to stick to it. I have to be willing to stick to the guns, so to speak."

It's not the first time in club history that a pitching coach has used strings as a prop to assist in simulating a strike zone. Mark Wiley used them during his tenure.

"Taking a look at this pitching staff and what they're capable of doing, the weapons they have, it was made very clear from the organization and diving into analytics, we need to create a little more awareness of misses, and really what down is and what up is," Stottlemyre said.

The Marlins aim to drill into their pitchers, especially the young ones, the importance of hitting their spots. And if they pitch up in the zone, to make sure they are truly up, above the barrel of the bat, and not make mistakes in the middle of the plate. The same holds true for pitches down in the zone.

"It's a great tool," Stottlemyre said. "It's going to give them a visual and some feedback in their bullpens to where they can have an understanding of where those misses are. I'm going to talk to them about where to go and the checkpoints and things to be able to get to better misses."

Smith faces hitters

Full-squad workouts start on Monday, but on Saturday, there was some simulated game action on Field 2.

For the first time since last June, threw to hitters. It was very preliminary, with batters stepping in and taking a couple of swings off the left-hander.

It's a significant step because Smith last pitched to a batter on June 24 at Colorado. During that game, the 27-year-old sustained a torn left lat muscle, which required season-ending surgery.

"It felt amazing," Smith said. "I can't explain it. I feel great."

Smith threw 15 pitches and came away pain-free. It's part of his progression to build up for the season.

His next time out, Smith is expected to throw about 40-45 pitches.

Walker at first?

Position battles are still to be won, but the way things are shaping up as of now, projects to get most of his at-bats at first base. In fact, he's considered the front-runner at the position with a right-hander on the mound.

The Marlins are leaning towards using , who also can play first base, in right field. Walker, who came up as a second baseman, played at first base in 42 games for the Yankees last year, and 15 games in right field.

But to get O'Brien's bat in the lineup, the plan is to use him in right and give Walker more opportunities at first. is a right-handed option at first, as well.

"This is a competition from the standpoint of how guys are swinging the bat and what we think they can do," Mattingly said. "But in general, I think we're looking for Neil at first. A left-handed bat that we brought in, thinking that's where a lot of his at-bats are. Obviously, he can play second. He can play third. He's played the outfield. We don't really look at him like that."

He said it

"I've been in a lot of camps over the game. This is bar none the youngest, and this is dangerous -- the youngest, and most talented, bunch of arms I've ever dealt with in all my years coaching." -- Stottlemyre

Up next

The Marlins will continue pitcher and catcher workouts on Sunday at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex. Players will be on the field at 9:30 a.m. ET. Practices are open to the public.