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Gonzalez's bat starting to heat up

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In a typical offseason, Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez would refine his swing playing winter ball in his native Venezuela.

This past winter, Gonzalez didn't have that benefit as he skipped playing in Venezuela while he was recovering from right elbow surgery.


As Spring Training winds down, Gonzalez's offense is picking up.


On Wednesday, the shortstop's three-run homer off Jose Santiago in the eighth inning rallied the Marlins to a 3-2 win over the Mets at Tradition Field.


The win improves Florida's record to 9-19-1, and matches the franchise low for Grapefruit League play. In 1996, the Marlins finished 9-22-1.


"You've got to win in Spring Training, too," Gonzalez said. "There is just one week until the season starts. When the season starts, everything is different."


Gonzalez is batting .271 this spring with two home runs and nine RBIs. The only Marlins to drive in more runs are Carlos Delgado and Miguel Cabrera, each with 10.


Gonzalez is one of those interesting hitters because he can hit for a low average, yet produce solid power statistics. A year ago, he batted .232, but he led all National League shortstops in home runs (23) and RBIs (79).


"It's difficult to hit in that eighth hole," he said. "This year, I want to do the same thing, be aggressive at home plate. I feel pretty good at home plate. The first couple of games, I feel I had a slow bat. I didn't have the speed I have right now. Now, I feel pretty good and I'm ready for the regular season."


He still ices his elbow regularly after games.


"I have a little inflammation in my forearm," he said. "The last two days, it's getting better."


Valdez impressive: Considering how he felt when Spring Training began, right-hander Ismael Valdez couldn't be better.


Bothered by a virus at the start of camp, Valdez eased back into the rotation as the fifth starter. He made his fourth and final start in Grapefruit League play on Wednesday.


It also was his best effort, as the right-hander gave up one run on four hits in six innings. Valdez threw 57 pitches.


Valdez will make one last start before the regular season begins, but it will be against minor leaguers on Monday in Jupiter.


He's scheduled to pitch for the first time during the regular season on April 9 against Washington.


"The other starters have two or three more starts than me," Valdez said.


While most of the Marlins are eager for the season to start, Valdez wouldn't mind some extra work.


"For me, I wish I had two more chances," he said.


As for the virus, he is improving, but hasn't completely shaken it.


"I haven't gotten rid of it yet," he said. "I don't know if it's an allergy or sinus. I'm coughing a lot."


Pierre runs: Juan Pierre tested his strained right calf muscle by running Wednesday on the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium.


Pierre didn't feel any discomfort, and the team is evaluating whether their swift center fielder will be ready for Opening Day.


Repeating what he has said for days, manager Jack McKeon said: "My gut feeling is, knowing him, I'm optimistic he will find a way."


McKeon, however, has not ruled out Pierre opening the season on the disabled list.


"I'm going to depend on what the doctors say," McKeon said.


Pierre aggravated the calf while making a running catch against the Orioles on March 7 at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.


Delgado Shift: Look for the "Delgado Shift" whenever Carlos Delgado is facing the Mets.


As they've done all spring, the Mets put on a heavy shift for the left-handed-hitting slugger. Mets shortstop Jose Reyes lined up on the first-base side of second base every time Delgado batted Wednesday, while second baseman Kazuo Matsui was aligned in short right field, where he actually fielded a grounder to throw Delgado out in the second inning.


With that shift in the fourth inning, Delgado lined a double down the third-base line. He later added a leadoff single to left-center in the eighth, finishing 2-for-4.


"They took one away from me, and I got one, so it's a wash," said Delgado of the shift impacting his day. "One door closes and another opens."


Delgado said teams have shifted against him for years. This spring, along with the Mets, the Orioles also used a shift.


"Somebody has got a chart," Delgado said.


Despite the shifts, the slugger said he has never tried to bunt for a hit.


Asked if he would bunt, he quipped: "I don't know the signs."


McKeon wouldn't mind an occasional bunt to keep teams honest.


"You don't need a sign to bunt on your own," McKeon said.


Roster moves: Right-handed reliever Ben Howard cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Albuquerque. In another move, right-hander Justin Wayne, a first-round pick in 2000, was released.


The Marlins now have 32 players in camp.


Howard, who has thrown 3 2/3 innings in Grapefruit League action and about six innings counting 'B' games, was out of options. The Marlins acquired Howard at the end of Spring Training last year for reliever Blaine Neal.


Wayne was on the Opening Day roster last year as a reliever. Selected fifth overall in 2000 by the Expos, Wayne was 3-3 with a 5.79 ERA last year. In 26 career Major League games, Wayne is 5-8 with a 6.13 ERA.


Wayne was outrighted to Triple-A on March 16.


Harris starts: Veteran Lenny Harris made a rare start Wednesday, getting the call in left field.


Now that the Marlins have withdrawn their interest in Tigers outfielder Bobby Higginson, Harris' chances for making the club have increased.


Harris, baseball's all-time pinch-hit leader with 193, is popular in the clubhouse.


"He doesn't get a regular dose of playing, like some of the other guys," McKeon said.


As a primary pinch-hitter, Harris is used to minimal activity. But McKeon likes to use the veteran as a spark, giving him occasional starts to help generate some excitement.


Harris hasn't enjoyed a productive spring, going 4-for-37.


"I already know my role," said Harris, who notes he has struggled at the plate in past springs. "When the bell rings, I'll be ready."


Coming up: Opening Day starter Josh Beckett, who has an 0.87 ERA in five Grapefruit League outings, makes his final spring appearance Thursday when the Marlins face the Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium. Beckett is 0-1 despite allowing two earned runs (three total) in 20 2/3 innings. He has struck out 21 while walking just five. John Patterson, who is 0-2 with an 8.18 ERA, gets the call for Washington.




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On Wednesday, the shortstop's three-run homer off Jose Santiago in the eighth inning rallied the Marlins to a 3-2 win over the Mets at Tradition Field.


I thought Encarnacion hit the homer..





there was mass confusion for most of the day, but i do believe it was Agon who hit it

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