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Will new name, faces, park lead Marlins in new direction?

The Sports Xchange

The Marlins will have plenty of optimism and lots of new faces this spring, but the main focus will be on its two veteran stars, right-handed starter Josh Johnson and shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

Shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano, and closer Heath Bell were the main pieces of the Marlins' busiest winter in franchise history.

With a payroll that will top $100 million, the Marlins will move into their new ballpark, Marlins Park, on April 4 with an eye on finishing the season in the playoffs.

The Marlins will have a better indication of those chances once spring training gets started.

Johnson has said his goal is to make 35 starts, which he never has done. He has been throwing off a mound since January near his home in Las Vegas and has reported no discomfort in his right shoulder.

But Grapefruit League games, which start March 5, will be a bigger test for Johnson than throwing off a mound. He made nine starts last season, and if he can be ready on opening day, it will be his first start since May 16.

Left-hander Mark Buehrle starts his first season with a team other than the Chicago White Sox, but he'll have a level of comfort with the familiarity of new manager Ozzie Guillen.

One of Guillen's missions this spring will be to help get right-hander Carlos Zambrano back into form. If Johnson is healthy, and if Buehrle and Zambrano perform as the team hopes, the Marlins have a chance to win 90 games.

Then there's Ramirez, who has two challenges this spring, to prove his surgically-repaired left shoulder is healed and embrace a move to third base. Ramirez is coming off the worst season of his career, after batting .243 in 92 games.

And he has grumbled about playing anywhere except shortstop. The team is confident Ramirez will get on board. But if he continues to complain, the Marlins could explore trade possibilities before opening day.

Another change this spring is the bullpen, which in recent years was the team's biggest question when camp opened. There will be competition for one or two spots, but the back end is pretty much spoken for, with new closer Heath Bell and right-hander Edward Mujica.

Under Guillen, the Marlins have the ingredients to contend. They'll have a better idea once spring training starts.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.


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