Jennings growing into role as manager
In the midst of a postgame conversation, a visitor to Marlins manager Dan Jennings' office was asked a question.
"Tell me the truth. When Dan took the manager job, what was your first reaction?"
The visitor smiled.
"I wondered if he knew what he was getting into."
Jennings raised his eyebrows.
"Me too," Jennings said with a laugh.
It has been some kind of a four-week ride for Jennings, who woke up the morning of May 18 as the general manager of the Marlins and hours later was introduced as their new manager, replacing Mike Redmond.
It wasn't something Jennings lobbied for. He had been a backer of Redmond. The last time Jennings was in uniform was 30 years earlier, when he was at Davidson High School in Mobile, Ala.
But when ownership asked him to take on the challenge, he didn't back down.
And after a week or so of fellow managers Buck Showalter and Chip Hale publicly questioning Jennings' decision-making, things are looking up. Taking over a team that had a four-game losing streak, Jennings saw the Marlins lose their first five games, and eight of their first 10, with him as manager.
Oh, he also saw three members of the rotation -- Mat Latos, Henderson Alvarez and Jarred Cosart -- and first baseman Mike Morse go on the disabled list.
Lately, however, things have been better.
The team has won three of its last four series, nine of its last 16 games. The exception was during a trip to Toronto, where they were swept by a Blue Jays team that went into Monday with a franchise-record 11-game winning streak.
The injured are starting to return. Latos returned to the rotation on Saturday, allowing four hits and a run in a seven-inning effort in which he struck out 11 and threw only 101 pitches. Cosart makes his final start of a rehab assignment with Triple-A New Orleans on Tuesday. Alvarez has resumed his throwing program.
And Jose Fernandez, the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013, when he also was an All-Star and finished third in Cy Young voting, has been moved up to New Orleans. He will make a rehab start Wednesday in his comeback from Tommy John elbow surgery that limited him to eight games last year.
Most important, though, the players have gotten to know Jennings, the manager, as opposed to Jennings, the general manager.
"We have gotten through the transition," said Jennings. "The guys loved Red. I loved Red. Then they got a front-office guy in the clubhouse. I know they were wondering what was going on. I had a good relationship with the players, but I hadn't been in the bunker with them. I knew that.
"I had a meeting and said, 'Give me a chance. I'll earn your trust and respect. I've got your back.' I think they are realizing that."
It doesn't hurt that Giancarlo Stanton, the marquee player on the team, has acknowledged that Jennings was a key factor in Stanton agreeing to a 13-year, $325 million contract last offseason.
And it has been a boost to Jennings that he also has found a support group from his peers.
The day he was hired to manage, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sent him a text, "Welcome to the second-guessers club."
The morning after one of the Marlins' losses right after Jennings took charge, his cell phone rang at 7 a.m. Bill Parcells was calling.
"He told me that it never hurts to just take a walk in the morning and get away from everything," said Jennings, who then watched the Marlins win their next two games in Baltimore.
And when the Marlins followed their trip to Baltimore with a visit to Pittsburgh, highly successful manager Jim Leyland, whose resume includes a World Series championship with the Marlins in 1997, dropped by for an afternoon conversation.
"He talked about the key to the job is managing people, putting them in situations," Jennings recalled.
Jennings gets that. He is a people person.
It's why he has made the moves from high school coach to associate scout for the Reds in 1986, area scout for Seattle in 1988, national crosschecker for the Mariners in 1995, scouting director for the Rays that same year and to the Marlins in 2002, for whom he has gone from vice president of player development to assistant general manager to general manager and now manager.
"I'm not looking ahead, I'm looking at the next game," he said. "We've got a job to do and that's the focus."
It was a little blurry at first.
Jennings and the Marlins, however, seem to have weathered the storm.