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Marlins are showing their new ballpark can be hitter-friendly

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The Canadian Press
5/19/2014 2:36:14 PM
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MIAMI -- Slugger Giancarlo Stanton hasn't changed his opinion about spacious Marlins Park. He still considers it a pitcher's park and dislikes the dimensions.

His Miami Marlins teammates are trying mightily to change his mind.

The Marlins begin a six-game homestand Tuesday against Philadelphia with a 17-5 home record, best in the majors. In a ballpark considered unfriendly to hitters, Miami is averaging 5.7 runs per game, second-best in the majors at home.

Stanton's leading the way. He has found the distant fences annoying since the park opened in 2012, but he nonetheless has 31 RBIs at home, the most in the majors. In Miami he has seven homers, a .354 batting average and a 1.166 OPS.

However, Stanton still insists the Marlins' home is a pitchers' park.

"It is in terms of power, but this conversation is not relevant," he said with a frown. "I don't want to talk about complaining about the ballpark."

That would be unseemly when the Marlins have outscored opponents 125-70 at home. The differential is especially eye-popping because they've been outscored 114-79 on the road, where their record is 6-17, worst in the majors.

They concluded another dismal trip Sunday, going 4-7 and losing ace Jose Fernandez to a season-ending elbow injury.

But they've been the mighty Marlins at home, which is a big change. In their first two seasons at Marlins Park, the home team averaged 3.6 runs per game, third-worst in the majors.

But they've altered their lineup and their approach at the plate. As a result, the Marlins' home batting average is .296, second-best in the majors.

"It's really extraordinary what they're doing this year -- a perfect example of how you've got to attack your home field," New York Mets manager Terry Collins said.

With the distances to the wall 386 feet in left centre, 398 in right centre and 418 in centre, Marlins hitters have stopped grousing and started driving the ball into the roomy power alleys.

They rank among the major-league leaders with 47 doubles and six triples at home.

"We knew it was going to be tough to hit home runs," manager Mike Redmond said. "But we talked during spring training about leading the league in doubles and putting balls in the gaps. The field is so big you don't have to hit home runs to do damage. You can hit triples and doubles, and you can go first to third on a single up the middle. You don't have to swing for the fences. You can stay within yourself and still be rewarded."

Even Stanton agrees. He has seen a lot of 400-foot flyouts since Marlins Park opened, but he has also watched his team score runs in bunches this year.

"You're not going to win by hitting homers here," Stanton said. "But if you understand that the guy on first is in scoring position, that's going to work to our advantage. On a normal double, here you can score from first standing up a lot of the time. We understand that and are taking advantage of it."

The Marlins tailored their lineup to the ballpark last off-season by acquiring left-handed hitter Garrett Jones and switch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Both have homered into the upper deck in right field, where the stands are most reachable.

"The easier way to hit home runs in this ballpark is for a left-handed hitter, so we did try to bring in some left-handed power," Redmond said.

Miami also signed Casey McGehee, a right-handed hitter who bats mostly cleanup. He has only one homer but is hitting .422 with runners in scoring position.

"They've done here of using the field to hit all sorts of different ways -- a drag bunt, balls hit up the middle," Collins said. "You've got to tip your hat that they've made those adjustments. This is a tough park to hit in. What they've done is found guys who put the ball in play and are difficult to defence."

Other opponents agree, but some also speculate about hidden reasons for the way the Marlins hit in their home park. When Miami scored 23 runs to sweep a three-game series at home against Atlanta last month, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez jokingly wondered if the Marlins had a spy in the outfield tipping their hitters on pitches.

"We got in their heads a little bit," Redmond said.

It's good to have visiting teams scratching their heads. And for the Marlins, who are above .500 despite their woeful road record, it's good to be home.

Giancarlo Stanton (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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