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Hammer Sets Pounding Pace


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'Hammer' sets pounding pace

By Joe Capozzi, Tuesday, May 09, 2006

 

Josh Willingham would have been perfectly content being called "Willie," the nickname he grew up with in Alabama. But when he got to the minor leagues in 2000, "Willie" was taken by teammate Josh Wilson.

"They had to think of something else,'' Willingham said. "They came up with 'Hammer.' "

 

Coming up with a baseball nickname is hardly an art or a science. But six years after the "Hammer" was first struck, the monicker is finally looking like an appropriate one for the Marlins' left fielder.

 

On a team of 12 rookies, Willingham has blossomed into the lineup's offensive force. His seven home runs and 25 RBI lead all major-league rookies.

 

He is on pace finish with 39 home runs and 140 RBI, which would break the Marlins' rookie records set by Preston Wilson (26 home runs in 1999) and Jeff Conine (79 RBI in 1993).

 

But Willingham laughs at the projections and says it's too early to start talking about top rookie honors or even an All-Star nod.

 

"I had a pretty good first month, but it's a long season,'' Willingham said. "I'm not really putting a whole lot of stock into the numbers just yet. At the All-Star break you can kind of look at your numbers.''

 

Pitcher Dontrelle Willis wonders if Willingham, who was barely mentioned in March as the team's rookie most capable of having the biggest season, might be in Pittsburgh when he reflects on his first half.

 

The All-Star Game is at Pittsburgh's PNC Park.

 

"The Hammer is a quiet guy, so I guess you could say he's someone who's under the radar,'' Willis said. "I don't want to jinx him, but I think you're going to see an All-Star game very soon for him.''

 

If that happens, it would be quite a rise from the relative obscurity that Willingham, 27, enjoyed when he arrived in Jupiter for spring training.

 

When the young and rebuilt Marlins opened camp, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, right fielder Jeremy Hermida and first baseman Mike Jacobs got most of the attention of the 12 rookies who would eventually make the team.

 

At the time, the only issue for Willingham ? who made appearances with the Marlins in 2004 and 2005 ? was where he would play.

 

After catching most of the spring, he wound up in the opening-day lineup in left field, with Miguel Olivo catching, because the Marlins needed an outfielder who could hit.

 

Even then, the Marlins anticipated their offense would come from Hermida, Miguel Cabrera and Jacobs.

 

But Hermida has been out since April 11 with a sore right hip flexor and Jacobs has struggled so badly he was benched for three games last week.

 

Cabrera, batting third, has continued to hit well, allowing Willingham to blossom in the cleanup spot.

 

"Miguel has a lot to do with the success of that fourth hitter,'' hitting coach Jim Presley said. "Josh has had a bunch of opportunities to drive runs in and that's what he's done. To me he's the best guy we have to hit behind Cabrera because he is very disciplined.''

 

Willingham, who is batting.298, isn't the only Marlins rookies playing well in the team's first 29 games. Ramirez has batted.305, hitting mostly in the leadoff spot. Second baseman Dan Uggla is hitting.278 with four homers and 14 RBI.

 

"Hammer is the most mature hitter of all those guys,'' manager Joe Girardi said. "He's a little older. He has hit in those spots in the minor leagues for a little bit longer. Hammer's mechanics are pretty simple. You watch him hit you understand why he hits. The other guys might need a little more hands-on (work) and they're younger. They're still learning their bodies.''

 

Willis, the 2003 National League Rookie of the Year, is impressed that Willingham, a natural catcher, has produced so well while learning to play solid defense in left field.

 

"He's stuck in a position he's never played before and he's been doing great," Willis said. "That's tough for some veterans.''

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I'd be lying if I said I didnt expect Willingham to be a force at the plate

 

 

yeah, but did you expect these types of numbers??

 

I figured he'd be good, but not THIS good. He looks like he's been facing major league pitching for years.

 

By the way, I never noticed it before but Willingham has a blog on www.palmbeachpost.com

Hammer's blog

:wub:

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I'd be lying if I said I didnt expect Willingham to be a force at the plate

 

 

yeah, but did you expect these types of numbers??

 

I figured he'd be good, but not THIS good. He looks like he's been facing major league pitching for years.

 

By the way, I never noticed it before but Willingham has a blog on www.palmbeachpost.com

Hammer's blog

:wub:

I actually expected him to walk a little more.... but I really thought he would be this good....

 

and holy crap, there are a few major a**holes who responded in his comments section

 

*goes to bat for hammer*

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so what the heck have the Marlins been doing keeping him down in the minors? What didn't they see in him??

 

Because all that "didn't know where to put him" stuff is nonsense IMO. If you can't find a position for a guy you throw him in a corner outfield spot & hope for the best.

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so what the heck have the Marlins been doing keeping him down in the minors? What didn't they see in him??

 

Because all that "didn't know where to put him" stuff is nonsense IMO. If you can't find a position for a guy you throw him in a corner outfield spot & hope for the best.

 

dont forget Jack didnt like playing the young guys

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so what the heck have the Marlins been doing keeping him down in the minors? What didn't they see in him??

 

Because all that "didn't know where to put him" stuff is nonsense IMO. If you can't find a position for a guy you throw him in a corner outfield spot & hope for the best.

 

 

Willy did get a chance, albeit a small one, to play in 2004 and didn't do much in a few starts, although I remember he wasn't overmatched or anything. Last year he got injured after he was called up. It's nice to think that he could have produced like this years earlier, but with Niner and Encarnacion getting most of the PT, Willy would have had a harder time producing.

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Guest FlummoxedLummox

Jack's blind allegience to underperforming veterans really killed me. It kills me that 2 years of Willingham's prime are gone and can never be taken back. At least he's here now, but oh what could have been...

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