Rodriguez trying to keep Fish afloat

June, 15, 2011
6/15/11
11:56
PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Florida manager Edwin Rodriguez isn’t losing any sleep over the team’s 1-14 stretch, but that’s only because he’s REM-deprived no matter how the Marlins are playing. When it comes to shut-eye, Rodriguez makes Charlie Sheen look like Rip Van Winkle.

“I only sleep for three or four hours a night,’’ Rodriguez said Wednesday. “I’ve been that way for many, many years, even back home. Sleeping is overrated.’’

Sleep can be a handy refuge for a manager who wakes up every morning to speculation that his job security is hanging by a very thin thread. But it’s tough to fade off into dreamland when you’re counting one-run losses and runners left in scoring position.

For the first two months this season, Rodriguez and the Marlins were one of baseball’s surprise feel-good stories. Three weeks ago they were 29-19 and one game behind Philadelphia in the National League East. Team president David Samson and general manager Larry Beinfest were so euphoric after a three-game sweep of the Giants in San Francisco, they ordered 200 In-N-Out burgers for the charter flight out of town.

But just about everything has gone wrong since Scott Cousins bowled over Buster Posey by the Bay. The Marlins are 3-17 since the wheels touched off the San Francisco Airport runway. The anguish continued with back-to-back losses in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The Marlins dropped the opener 8-1 and then coughed up a 4-2, two-out lead in the ninth to lose 5-4 in 10 innings in the nightcap.

It’s no challenge finding reasons for the Marlins’ unraveling. Josh Johnson, an early Cy Young candidate, is on the 60-day disabled list with an inflamed shoulder and won’t return until after the All-Star break. Chris Volstad (6.07 ERA) and Javier Vazquez (7.09) have been far too hittable at the back end of the rotation. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who just returned from a back injury, is hitting .206 with four homers. And the Marlins are 24th in the majors with a .235 batting average with runners in scoring position.

They’re also a very young group: Of the nine-man lineup that Rodriguez ran out in the opener of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Phillies, only third baseman Greg Dobbs and second baseman Omar Infante were older than 27.

On a positive note, two scouts at Citizens Bank Park said the Marlins continue to play the game as though they’re fully engaged.

“You watch them and they go hard the down the line on every ground ball,’’ one scout said. “They’re still busting their asses.’’

But it’s only natural that Rodriguez’s name is making the rounds in “hot seat’’ speculation. Marlins CEO Jeffrey Loria, an owner who can be euphemistically referred to as “hands-on,’’ earned a reputation for impetuousness by firing Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez, who are now working for marquee franchises in New York and Atlanta. And Loria showed that he meant business this year by venting about the team’s “uninspired’’ play midway through spring training.

The Marlins recently generated a player backlash when they fired hitting coach John Mallee, a popular figure in the clubhouse. The Florida front office was reportedly chapped when Logan Morrison, the team’s quotable, engaging, social media-savvy left fielder, spoke out forcefully in Mallee’s behalf.

It’s also the time of season when tensions begin to escalate and dugout seats keep getting warmer. The Oakland A’s fired manager Bob Geren last week after reliever Brian Fuentes’ public complaints hinted at internal clubhouse strife, and the Houston Astros fired pitching coach Brad Arnsberg on Tuesday over “philosophical differences.’’

Rodriguez, a 50-year-old Puerto Rico native, is an easy guy to root for. He spent seven years as a scout with the Minnesota Twins and managed 887 games in the minors before finally getting his shot in Florida. He’s an avid reader who meditates each morning and projects a Felipe Alou-like air of serenity and calm. He’s widely regarded in baseball circles as the real thing.

“I can only speak for me, but I love him,’’ Morrison said. “I had him in the minor leagues, and I never had a problem with him. If you play hard for him, he’s going to have your back.’’

As the losses mount and the Marlins’ season heads in the wrong direction, Rodriguez is stoically keeping a lid on his emotions. He focuses on positive reinforcement, telling his players that one series, one game or one pitch might be all it takes for things to turn around. Teams are rarely as good as they look when they’re winning or as hopeless as they appear when they’ve dropped 14 of 15.

“At the beginning of the year, everybody was saying what a great manager he was,’’ Marlins catcher John Buck said of Rodriguez. “Now we’re losing games and all you keep hearing is, ‘He could be on the hot seat.’ But the feeling I’ve gotten from him -- especially while we’ve struggled -- is that he cares about these young guys. He’s trying to help them get better rather than focusing on his job.

“When you’re going through what we’re going through now, that’s usually when players will feel panic [from the manager]. But Edwin keeps going around trying to make guys feel more comfortable. That’s why people gravitate toward him. Through the peaks and valleys, he’s consistent.’’

The first instinct for any manager under scrutiny is to withdraw and tune out the media. Not Rodriguez. He paid close attention, for example, when the A’s sent Geren packing last week. Rodriguez played Triple-A ball with Oakland GM Billy Beane in Portland, Ore., and he was on the same winter league team in Puerto Rico with Geren.

“When somebody gets fired, I like to read about the reaction from the organization, the players and the coaches,’’ Rodriguez said. “I think you can learn from that. You put yourself in those situations and ask yourself, ‘How would you react?’’’

There’s a fine line between acknowledging reality and radiating tension, and it’s tougher to navigate with every loss. Rodriguez had to sweat out lots of Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen rumors before the Marlins decided to bring him back this season. The conventional wisdom is that Loria will want a more high-profile manager as the team prepares to move into a new ballpark in 2012. The question is, are the Marlins prepared to fork out the big money required?

“I’m not feeling the pressure, to be honest,’’ Rodriguez said. “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. There’s only so much you can do or say as a coach or manager, and then it’s out of your control.

“People keep asking me or telling me that the front office here is always very involved in the clubhouse. That doesn’t bother me. On the contrary. I want an owner that cares about what’s going on. Good or bad.’’

Until the good Marlins reappear, Rodriguez will rely on stoicism, consistency and encouraging words to resurrect hope in the clubhouse and save his job. It’s up to the players to do the rest.

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email.

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