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"Juan isn't too far Gone"


gainesvillemarlin
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The little guy was never this little.

 

One constant with the Florida Marlins over the past two years was that Juan Pierre, iPod-thin and dog-after-a-bone determined, always played bigger than six feet. Always.

 

 

Juan Pierre is frustrated by his uncharacteristic struggles at the plate. (Getty Images)

He was the key in the ignition, the fly that avoided the swatter, the starters' pistol for another South Beach road race.

 

He was never, ever the guy on the bench ... not until Florida manager Jack McKeon sat him down and snapped his streak of 386 consecutive games played one alarming day two weeks ago.

 

He was never just a guy batting seventh ... not until McKeon shuffled the deck a couple of weeks ago as the fly swatter came perilously close.

 

"I sat him out against tough left-handers because he was in a rut and he was trying so hard," McKeon said through thick cigar smoke the other afternoon in the Marlins dugout. "I decided to give him a breather. Rather than go 0-for-3 or 0-for-4, let him sit back and relax.

 

"That didn't work, so I tried him seventh in the order, figuring he was trying too hard to get on base. That didn't work, so I decided the hell with it, I'm going to go back to the opening day lineup and ride it out."

 

It is mid-June and getting later every day, and Pierre is in a place he never expected to be during all of those intense, early-morning workouts last winter. He is in a place where there are far more questions than answers, and the tough thing to swallow is that he's helped take the rest of the Marlins with him.

 

They have the best pitching in the NL East right now, and their staff ranks a sterling second in the NL with a 3.78 ERA. In Dontrelle Willis, A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett (now sidelined with a blister on his finger) and Brian Moehler, the Marlins have been getting playoff pitching.

 

Yet they are lumbering along, fourth in the division, 4 1/2 games behind the steady Washington Nationals. No small part of that is due to the fact that their leadoff man, Pierre, currently is batting .253 -- 73 points below last year's .326. His on-base percentage is currently resting at .298 -- last year it was .374.

 

"It's definitely frustrating," said Pierre, whom teammate Luis Castillo calls the "key" to the offense. "But I'm not going to give up on the season by any means. It's just something you have to work through."

 

Pierre is certainly not the only reason Florida's offense isn't keeping pace with its pitchers. Third baseman Mike Lowell is batting just .227 with three home runs and 27 RBI after going .293-27-85 a year ago and .276-32-105 during the Marlins' championship year in 2003.

 

That these two players are in such deep holes has contributed to rumors that hitting coach Bill Robinson's job is in jeopardy. It also has contributed to the fact that the Marlins this month have conducted more meetings than your local school board. The players had their own meeting. McKeon held a team-wide meeting. Finally, owner Jeffrey Loria and general manager Admin Beinfest sauntered into the clubhouse to call a meeting.

 

Let's just say none of these sessions was designed to vote on playoff shares.

 

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"It's tough," McKeon said. "When you're used to being a pretty good hitter and having things fall your way, and all of a sudden they don't, then you try to do more than you're capable of doing."

 

Said Pierre: "I take a lot of responsibility. When you have 0-for-4s and your team isn't scoring five or six runs, when you're shut out or you lose 2-1 or 3-1, I take it personally. Usually, I get on base two or three times a game, and if I do that, I usually score at least one run."

 

Pierre showed signs of turning things around with a four-hit game Wednesday in Chicago. Then he went a combined 0-for-11 in the first two games of the Marlins' series in Anaheim -- both losses -- before finally rapping out two hits (including a triple) and scoring a run in Florida's 7-5 weekend-saving win Sunday.

 

Lowell, meanwhile, joined Pierre in the hole the first two games in Anaheim, going 0-for-9, before going 1-for-4 with two runs scored Sunday. While the Marlins as a team rank second in the NL in batting average and third in on-base percentage, they're only 11th in runs scored.

 

Where Pierre entered this season with 201 steals since the 2001 season -- most in the majors -- his 16 this season ranked sixth in the NL and put him on pace for 39, which would be the lowest total of his career.

 

Pierre is being brutally honest when he says he takes this personally. One of the more sensitive and thoughtful players in the game, he was visibly upset when McKeon benched him, sitting in front of his locker with his head down, according to teammates. Veteran pinch-hitter Lenny Harris eventually sidled up to him, telling him to learn from it and let it motivate him.

 

"I went to him because I saw his head was all down," Harris said. "He's different. He pouts about a lot of things, especially when things are not going well. He gets real quiet and moody."

 

Make no mistake: Harris means that in a "he cares" way, not in a "he's an immature crybaby" way. "He's the hardest worker on this club," Harris said. "We worked out together all offseason. If I was late, he was going to call me."

 

There has been conjecture by scouts and some media members that perhaps this is part of Pierre's problem this season. He worked out at Cris Carter's FAST camp in Florida every morning last winter, then drove over to the Marlins' stadium and worked out some more. He ran and lifted weights at the Carter camp; he did his baseball activities -- hitting and throwing -- with Harris at the stadium.

 

Pierre suffered a strained right calf this spring that set him back and, as he has struggled this season, some wonder if he didn't put his body through too much over the winter.

 

"I do the same thing every year," said Pierre, 27. "I don't know why this keeps coming up."

 

McKeon echoes Pierre, noting that his swift center fielder wasn't bothered last year by it. And it also should be mentioned that Pierre's buddy, Willis, worked out every day at the Carter camp and Willis is having a solid season -- solid enough that he's a leading candidate to start next month's All-Star Game in Detroit.

 

"I've seen Sean Casey when I was in Cincinnati in the same position," said McKeon, who managed the Reds from 1997-2000. "You know he can hit, and all of a sudden he's at .215, .220 -- and he ended the season at .310."

 

That is the hope for both Pierre and Lowell as the Marlins play bumper cars with the rest of the NL East. Somebody is going to emerge, from both the division scrum and from the Marlins' icebox.

 

"I think everyone in their career goes through a stretch like this, where it goes on much longer than you're used to," said Lowell. "You tinker. But the key is to go back to basics. You can't get 30 hits in one at-bat."

 

The Marlins' leadoff man accustomed to playing much larger than he is knows this, too. He knows you can bury yourself beyond recognition if you blindly try to fight your way out of a slump. He knows that the mindset of other clubs is to keep him and Castillo, the Marlins' Nos. 1 and 2 hitters, off base. He knows he can get himself in trouble if he takes things too personally.

 

"It's a little bit of a process," Pierre said. "You get into it slowly, and you get out of it slowly."

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The offenses' Guillermo Mota. Insistent on playing, but not ready to play.

 

I'm somewhat convinced JP was another speedy fluke who will never reach the heights he once did and will be severely limited in coming seasons. Hopefully that doesn't come. We need him.

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I do think that there are some players that need to go, but Juan P is not one of them, he palys to hard for us to let him go, ''Juan isnt too far gone'' Who even put it in our minds that he was gone. Now I think juan Encarnastion (?) is one of those players that we need to let go, look at some of the pitches he gos after!! Im sure he is a good man, but at the plate he is luke warm.

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good read, Juan is a natural leadoff hitter struggle or not he should be leading off every day.

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Castillo is a much much better leadoff guy

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castillo is a much better hitter, and to me seems to have the ability to hit in all slots of the lineup, which is why i would hit pierre leadoff over him.

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The way Luis has been getting on base lately I'd like to see him hitting leadoff. The odd thing with the way JP has been slumping is that it seems to affect the offense even more than it should. He goes 0-fer and the team can't get a run. He gets a hit (a triple, but still) and they score 4 in the inning. I know the leadoff hitter makes things go but it seems like this team takes that to the extreme.

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The way Luis has been getting on base lately I'd like to see him hitting leadoff. The odd thing with the way JP has been slumping is that it seems to affect the offense even more than it should. He goes 0-fer and the team can't get a run. He gets a hit (a triple, but still) and they score 4 in the inning. I know the leadoff hitter makes things go but it seems like this team takes that to the extreme.

818245[/snapback]

Lately? You do know that after this recent heating up you speak of, he has lowest on base percentage he's had all year, right?

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The way Luis has been getting on base lately I'd like to see him hitting leadoff. The odd thing with the way JP has been slumping is that it seems to affect the offense even more than it should. He goes 0-fer and the team can't get a run. He gets a hit (a triple, but still) and they score 4 in the inning. I know the leadoff hitter makes things go but it seems like this team takes that to the extreme.

818245[/snapback]

Lately? You do know that after this recent heating up you speak of, he has lowest on base percentage he's had all year, right?

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Haha, maybe so. It must be a matter of perception then. I don't have the numbers in front of me so I'm sure you've got it right. Regardless he's getting on base at a good rate.

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The way Luis has been getting on base lately I'd like to see him hitting leadoff. The odd thing with the way JP has been slumping is that it seems to affect the offense even more than it should. He goes 0-fer and the team can't get a run. He gets a hit (a triple, but still) and they score 4 in the inning. I know the leadoff hitter makes things go but it seems like this team takes that to the extreme.

818245[/snapback]

Lately? You do know that after this recent heating up you speak of, he has lowest on base percentage he's had all year, right?

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You talking about Luis or JP, ferry? I thought strandedx was talking about Luis. Luis's OBP is not the lowest all year. In fact, he's raised it from .411 on June 9th to .429. It was up to .435 after Saturday and then dropped a notch with the Sunday 1-5. There's only been 3 days all season that he's had a higher OBP than his current .429.

 

The thing that scares me about JP is that he's hit like this before and it lasted all season. In 2002, his road splits (.247 average, .297 OBP) looked much like his overall numbers do this year. Coors raised his overall numbers and kinda hid how bad a year he had. I have no doubt that JP will snap out of it but it may not be this season.

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The offenses' Guillermo Mota. Insistent on playing, but not ready to play.

 

I'm somewhat convinced JP was another speedy fluke who will never reach the heights he once did and will be severely limited in coming seasons. Hopefully that doesn't come. We need him.

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JP is one of the best leadoff men in the league.

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