JUPITER — When it came to finding pitches to hit — pitches that were thrown in the strike zone, pitches the Marlins’ big man could put his barrel on — it was slim pickings for Giancarlo Stanton a season ago.
Pitchers were ordered to approach Stanton with extreme caution and, as a result, only three players — Yasiel Puig, Pablo Sandoval and Bryce Harper — saw a lower percentage of pitches thrown to them in the strike zone.
Don’t expect that avoid-at-all-costs tactic to change in 2014.
Despite efforts by the Marlins to improve their lineup, scouts say Stanton remains the only dangerous bat in the order and opponents will continue to pitch around him.
Said one major-league scout of what Stanton can expect:
“Take your base.”
Said another scout: “It’s never going to change until they put another hitter in their lineup who can put the fear of God into you like Stanton does. The thinking is: ‘If I put him on first, he can’t drive in three runs. He can only score one.’ ”
It could all add up to another long and frustrating season for Stanton and the Marlins, the lowest-scoring team in the majors last year. By acquiring Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Garrett Jones, the Marlins are hoping they give pitchers something else to think about other than Stanton.
But scouts said that, until proven otherwise, Stanton remains the focal point.
According to Fangraphs, only 38.2 percent of the pitches thrown to Stanton were strikes.
The Giants’ Sandoval saw the lowest percentage of strikes for entirely different reasons. Sandoval is an aggressive, free swinger who lacks plate discipline and swung at a whopping 45.5 percent of pitches that were delivered to him outside of the strike zone. Stanton, on the other hand, swung at 30.5 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, an improvement over his 2012 rate of swinging at 37.1 percent of those pitches.
But Stanton is the first to acknowledge that he could have — and probably should have — done a better job with those pitches that found their way into the strike zone. Too often, he said, he let hittable pitches go by for strikes.
“Sometimes you think, here’s a situation where you’re not going to get anything and — boom boom — right there [down the middle of the plate],” Stanton said. “I wasn’t used to that. But that’s not anyone’s fault but mine. You got to be ready for that, even if it’s one or two pitches a game. You’ve got to be more precise on the one or two you’re going to get.”
Added manager Mike Redmond: “Last year, he probably felt like he had to carry the load, and that wasn’t fair to him. So I think he probably went out of the zone more than he will have to this year to try to get hits and try to put the ball in play.”
Redmond said Stanton, like most young players, probably had a hard time adjusting to the fact that pitchers are giving him very little to hit.
“I think sometimes that gets in your head sometimes,” Redmond said.
Stanton said he thinks the Marlins did a good job of improving the lineup, and that, eventually, it will lead to more pitches for him to hit. But that change might not be immediate, he said.
“It’ll change a little bit, but you’ve got to play it out,” he said. “Now we have some new bats, but they have to show it.”
Until then, opponents will continue to treat Stanton the same way.
“Anytime he can beat you, don’t pitch to him,” the first scout said. “It’s that simple.”
• A big rookie season for Jose Fernandez produced a big pay raise.
Fernandez will make close to $635,000 — well above the major-league minimum of $500,000 — thanks to a breakout season in which he quickly emerged as one of the top pitchers in the majors.
Most pre-arbitration players receive small raises of only a few thousand dollars — at most — in their second seasons. But Fernandez received built-in bonuses for making the All-Star team, winning the Rookie of the Year and garnering a pair of Player of the Month honors.
“I’m going to put it in the bank,” Fernandez said of his newfound riches. “I’m really thankful. I’m doing what I love, and to get paid to do what you love — wake up every day and come to the field and get paid a lot of money …”
The Marlins announced Saturday that they had signed their 28 pre-arbitration players, including Fernandez, and that all members of the 40-man roster are now under contract for the upcoming season.
• In Jupiter, Avery Romero drove in the winning run with a two-out single in the ninth as the Marlins defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4.
Starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi gave up one run in two innings for Miami. Andrew Heaney, the Marlins’ top pitching prospect, followed Eovaldi to the mound and turned in two scoreless innings.
The Marlins also won their other split-squad game Saturday, handing the New York Mets a 9-1 defeat in Port St. Lucie. Kevin Slowey started for the Marlins and delivered two scoreless innings, striking out four.
• Sunday: Marlins LHP Brad Hand at Washington Nationals RHP Doug Fister, 1:05 p.m., Viera.
• Monday: Marlins RHP Jacob Turner vs. Houston Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.