Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa's Martinez, Hernandez excited about role with Marlins
Last year, the Miami Marlins had a who's who of baseball talent. Look at the Marlins now. Watching Miami's players file into the clubhouse, you're left with one question: Who? The roster was purged and the payroll slashed. It's another youth movement for the Marlins. World Series expectations are gone. Experience is lacking.But for two Tampa baseball legends — Tino Martinez and Chuck Hernandez — it's the perfect opportunity. Martinez, the former New York Yankees first baseman, agreed to become the Marlins' hitting coach in November. At approximately the same time, in an independent move, Hernandez left the University of South Florida to join the Marlins as pitching coach. Martinez, who has two children in college and another daughter in high school, has been intrigued by coaching. The timing, he felt, was finally right. And inheriting a team with largely unproven talent seemed the proper way to start. Hernandez, meanwhile, has made a career out of working with young pitching prospects, who generally respond to his even-keeled perspective. He was settling in at USF, thinking that might be his last stop. But with his two children in college, he also felt it was an ideal return to MLB. First-year Marlins manager Mike Redmond couldn't be happier. "We're really blessed to have them both," Redmond said. "Chuck has such a great reputation. He just has a knack for developing pitching talent and relating to young guys. He's perfect for our situation. "And Tino, with all the things he did and all the money he made, he doesn't have to be out here coaching. It shows me the desire and love he has for this game. He brings this energy — almost a youthful energy — and our players are the ones who really benefit from that.'' Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan, the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year, is trying to resurrect his career after batting just .140 in 39 games last season with Miami. He's excited by Martinez's presence. "Everybody is going to (stink) at some point, that's just inevitable,'' said Coghlan, a graduate of East Lake High. "Tino is going to be an encourager. He knows how jacked up mentally hitters are because he was one, too. Sometimes, we struggle with our confidence. We deal with insecurities and battle negative thoughts. Tino has been there. "I just like talking to him about hitting, all the things he has seen. He has experienced the highest highs. He has gone through slumps. We all have great respect for him. He brings such credibility.'' Martinez, admittedly, could have spent a few more years around Tampa just being Tino, working for the Yankees, attending banquets, shaking hands, kissing babies. That was nice. But it wasn't enough. "I've enjoyed being retired and being home, because I was gone for so long, but I almost felt like I was getting a little lazy," said Martinez, who also spoke with the Boston Red Sox about a hitting coach position, but felt the better fit was in Miami. "I knew I could do more. I think I have something to offer." Martinez's pinstripe legacy is well known. It might even seem glamorous. But his approach to hitting speaks to fundamentals. "It's about helping them become complete hitters,'' Martinez said. "Use the whole field, gap to gap. Don't just go for home runs. Hit for a high average, a high on-base percentage, work the count. That was our strength with the Yankees. "When you're going good, you're going good. You don't need somebody like me. But it's my job to watch for things that don't go well and make sure bad habits don't get started. I've got to be on it and head it off. I'm excited to have these young guys who want to learn. They are all like sponges.'' Hernandez has experienced a similar sensation with his pitching staff. Marlins left-hander Wade LeBlanc said he values Hernandez's track record, particularly his work with the likes of Chuck Finley, Scott Kazmir, Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander while working with four previous MLB organizations. "Chuck's record speaks for itself,'' LeBlanc said. "He definitely establishes a positive bond. For me, I like talking with him about the guys he worked with like Kenny Rogers, how he pitched on the corners, in and out, what they did to make things successful.'' Hernandez wasn't certain if he would get another MLB job — or if he wanted one. "I was content at USF,'' Hernandez said. "But people call you. Your name gets tossed around. The more I looked at this, the more it seemed like the thing we got established with the Rays before it got moving in a positive direction. "Yes, we have a lot of youth. It's an unknown in this business. Sometimes, youth strikes fast. Sometimes, it takes a little longer. You never know how things can work. I do know you generally need good pitching to be successful. When you get that, your team looks better than you think. It's a challenge. But it's invigorating.'' The other day, Martinez showed up at Hernandez's place in Jupiter, the Marlins' training ground. Hernandez's wife prepared chicken and yellow rice. "Tampa guys eating a Tampa meal," Hernandez said. "We felt at home.'' But the same is true at the ballpark. It's where they love to be, where they're meant to be. "I'm not sure what's going to happen,'' Martinez said. "But I know each morning when I get up, I'm pretty excited."
firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7353 Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO