<
>

Royals-Marlins preview

MIAMI -- After snapping the Kansas City Royals' nine-game winning streak on Wednesday, the Miami Marlins will try to take the deciding game of the three-game series on Thursday.

The Marlins (66-60) have the edge over the Royals (65-61) in terms of the series finale's starting-pitching matchup.

Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler (9-8, 3.82 ERA) has a 1.62 ERA in 39 innings since the All-Star break, covering six starts. He has allowed just 26 hits while striking out 30 in that span.

The Royals will counter with Edinson Volquez (9-10, 5.04 ERA). The right-hander has a bloated 7.16 ERA over his past five starts, allowing six homers and 26 runs in that span.

If the Royals can be tied or ahead once the game gets to the bullpen, then they have the advantage. Kansas City relievers have pitched a franchise-record 34 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

"Our bullpen is doing fine," Royals manager Ned Yost said after Kansas City's 3-0 loss to Miami on Wednesday. "They came in (on Wednesday) and held (Miami) right there, did their job."

The Marlins will have a new arrival Thursday, as they acquired outfielder Jeff Francoeur on Wednesday night from the Atlanta Braves.

Francoeur, 32, has 160 career homers, including seven this year in 257 at-bats. He figures to give the Marlins some right-handed power off the bench.

Miami general manager Michael Hill said he was looking for help since his star right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, went down recently with a groin injury.

"Once the injury to (Stanton) happened, we wanted to get a right-handed outfielder," Hill said. "He wanted someone who could give us punch against left-handed pitching.

"As well as our team has played, we wanted to do anything we could to get us to where we want to be, which is October baseball."

The Marlins will have to make a roster move Thursday to clear room for Francoeur. The player most likely to go down to the minors is infielder/outfielder Robert Andino, a recent call-up.

As for the Marlins' regulars, manager Don Mattingly said Wednesday that he "doesn't see a huge difference" between starting shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and backup Miguel Rojas.

It was a surprising comment because Hechavarria is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who is in the prime of his career at age 27. This is his fourth year as the Marlins' starter. Hechavarria came off the bench Wednesday night to make a spectacular diving catch on a line drive by Alcides Escobar for the first out of the ninth inning.

"That was a great play," Escobar said. "That changed the game right there in that situation. I hit that ball really well. When I saw the catch, I said, 'Oh!'"

Mattingly, though, seems to favor Rojas, who is also 27 but has never been an everyday starter in the big leagues. This is his third year in the majors, and he has a .598 career on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). Hechavarria's career OPS isn't great, either, but it is better at .634.

Defensively, Hechavarria has the edge again, posting a .979 career fielding percentage to a .976 mark for Rojas.

However, Mattingly seems to value Rojas' versatility and ability to play any spot on the infield, including first base.

"Overall, 'Hech' is our shortstop, but I'm comfortable with either guy," Mattingly said.

Given Mattingly's comments, it seems as if the Marlins are setting up to trade Hechavarria in the offseason, turning to the cheaper option in Rojas.

Hechavarria is making $2.6 million this season and should get a raise as he is eligible for arbitration. Rojas is making only $511,000 and is not yet eligible for arbitration.

"Miggy is a solid player who can do different things," Mattingly said. "Miggy is valuable because he can play all over the place. Hech is more suited to play one spot (shortstop)."

The Royals have no controversy at shortstop, where Alcides Escobar has started all 126 games this season.

Escobar went 2-for-4 on Wednesday, raising his average to .261 and his OPS to .613. In his past 12 games, Escobar has six multi-hit contests, and he is batting .378 (17-for-45) overall in that span.