Stanton turning heads with prolific start
Outfielder's tape-measure home run highlights 12-RBI opening week
WASHINGTON -- Home runs may all count the same, but they certainly don't all look or sound alike.
The volume seems to turn to full blast whenever Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton gets into one, like he did in setting a distance record Friday at Marlins Park.
Stanton launched a drive off San Diego's Eric Stults that nearly exited the stadium entirely on one hop. With the roof and operable wall open, the laser shot cleared the Bud Bar on the concourse and took one hop about eight feet from the back wall. The ball bounced off a post, keeping it in the building.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, the home run measured 484 feet, making it the longest recorded in the three seasons at Marlins Park.
"I know as a player, a home run is a home run," said Miami manager Mike Redmond, a former catcher. "It doesn't matter how far it goes. But some of them are more impressive because of the distance. Obviously, Giancarlo, the bomb that he hit, it's fun to talk about."
There certainly has been plenty of early-season chatter surrounding Stanton and the Marlins, both off to fast starts. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Miami completed its 5-2 homestand with Stanton leading the way.
It's not just the home runs that has the league, the team, the media and fans taking notice.
Stanton, a notoriously slow starter in the past, is locked in, motivated and producing what so many have expected. The 24-year-old right fielder enters Monday's off-day batting .345 (10-for-29) with three doubles, two home runs and 12 RBIs. He's already delivered four game-winning RBIs.
Stanton has also driven in a run in each of the seven games, which ties him with Cliff Floyd (2001) for the second-most consecutive games with an RBI to open a season in club history. A year ago, Stanton had nine RBIs total in April. Already in the month, he has 10. His first two came on Opening Night, played on March 31.
"This might sound a little odd, but he hasn't even scratched the surface of how good he can be," Marlins utility infielder Jeff Baker said. "With more at-bats and playing in more big league games, the sky is the limit for the guy. I'm not just saying that because I'm his teammate."
Because of the imposing power, Stanton has always had an awe factor. What he's developing now is a more rounded game. He's already stolen two bases, and he's improving in right field.
As a hitter, Stanton is using the entire field. His first home run was an opposite-field liner that ended up clanking off the facing of the wall in the back of Miami's bullpen. The ball sprang back about 20 feet and nearly hit reliever Mike Dunn, who covered up. If Stanton figures out how to stay back and hit the ball hard the other way, Redmond said he could develop into the best player in the game.
Baker, a veteran who played with the Rangers last year, has seen his share of power hitters. In 2012, he played briefly with the Tigers, and he got to see Miguel Cabrera up close every day.
"[Stanton] has something, outside of playing with Miguel Cabrera, no one else has," Baker said. "That's just the pure raw power."
After losing 100 games last year, the Marlins crafted a lineup to help protect Stanton. Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Baker were signed as free agents to help surround the slugger with players with track records.
Many wondered if Stanton would have pitches to hit. So far, he has, largely because Miami's supporting cast is vastly improved. McGehee, for instance, has 10 RBIs and four doubles in the first week.
New Marlins hitting coach Frank Menechino is getting plenty of praise for identifying approaches for all his hitters. Menechino also isn't hesitating to push the club's most feared slugger.
"That's what I like," Stanton said. "This game is so difficult. You are getting out so many times. Are you having productive outs? Are you doing this or that?"
Part of Menechino's preaching has more to do with the skills of each hitter.
"It's not so much about the pitcher. It's more about you and having a plan," Stanton said. "It's doesn't matter what the pitcher has. If he has his best stuff, he's going to get guys out anyway."
Stanton has been able to reduce his number of poor at-bats, and he's drawn three walks. It's also obvious Stanton is relaxed and happy. Asked if this is the happiest he has been since being promoted to the big leagues in 2010, Stanton said: "Yeah, absolutely."
The Marlins' record for RBIs in April is 30, set by Moises Alou in 1997. At his current pace, Stanton could challenge the mark. His best RBI month was in May 2012, when he drove in 30 on the way to being named National League Player of the Month.
The fast start is an indicator of what Stanton is capable of achieving when healthy and batting in the heart of a productive lineup. Miami's offense is about to be severely tested on its road trip, though, which opens in Washington vs. the Nationals on Tuesday. Gio Gonzalez is lined up for the series opener.
"We've talked about them pitching around Giancarlo, which they will at times," Redmond said. "The way to eliminate that is for the guys behind him to get hits and drive in some runs. When that starts happening, Giancarlo will hopefully start getting some better pitches to hit. At the same time, too, these guys are kind of feeding off each other.
"I see a lot of just taking what you're getting and not trying to overswing. Taking a lot of base hits up the middle. It doesn't matter how we drive those guys in, whether it be a double in the gap. A single up the middle drives two guys in just as easy as a double or triple down the line, or a home run."