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Reyes, Bonifacio illustrate Marlins' speed plan

Reyes, Bonifacio illustrate Marlins' speed plan

Reyes, Bonifacio illustrate Marlins' speed plan
PHILADELPHIA -- A few days before the Winter Meetings began, Marlins outfielder Emilio Bonifacio got a call. It was from shortstop Jose Reyes, one of his friends, who was then one of the most sought-after free agents on the market.

"He was really excited," Bonifacio said. "He just said, 'I'm almost there. It's going to be fun this year.'"

It meant that Reyes was close to finalizing a deal with Miami. It also meant that he was already envisioning he and Bonifacio hitting together at the top of the Marlins' batting order, getting on and stealing bases, creating havoc by putting pressure on the other team.

That abstract blueprint came to life Monday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Reyes and Bonifacio singled to start the top of the first inning against Phillies starter Cole Hamels, then pulled a double steal. Reyes scored on a groundout to give the Marlins their first first-inning run of the season. Miami went on to win, 6-2, spoiling the Phillies' home opener.

Bonifacio also led off the sixth with a bunt single and made it all the way to third when Hamels picked the ball up and threw it past an uncovered first base and into right field. Later, the left-hander would admit that because of the runner's speed, he turned and fired without looking to see if there was anybody there. That created another run.

The idea of having two speedsters at the top of the lineup isn't new. The Marlins paired speedy Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo in the first two spots in 2003, and it helped them win a World Series championship. The third-base coach at the time was Ozzie Guillen.

"That's what the ideal is," said Guillen, now in his first year as the Marlins' manager. "The hitters are going to see a lot of fastballs. And the catchers have to be aware, the [opposing] coaches have to be aware. It's just nice when you can run a little bit. That makes everybody a little heads up."

Reyes, 28, and Bonifacio, 26, met several years ago during winter ball in their native Dominican Republic and became close. Their lockers are next to each other in the visitors' clubhouse. After the game, they both ran through a series of exercises with thick rubber bands around their ankles, working to keep their legs strong.

"We met there and I've been following him, too, because I like guys who have a lot of speed and like to run and steal bases. I like that part of the game," Reyes said. "I thought a little bit in my mind [about playing with him]. I said, 'Oh, man, if I sign there, it's going to be a lot of fun for us and put a lot of pressure on the other team.'"

It really didn't work out that way in the first four games of the season. Both players were performing well enough individually, but they weren't clicking together as a unit, especially in the first inning.

So with runners on first and second and nobody out in the first Monday, Reyes decided to try to make something happen. He took off for third with Hanley Ramirez at the plate, sliding in just ahead of the throw, with Bonifacio easily taking second on the play.

"We've got a green light, and Cole Hamels, he's a little bit slow to the plate. So we need to take advantage of that," the former Mets shortstop said. "I've faced Hamels plenty of times in my career, so when we get on, we just try to put a little pressure on."

Confirmed Guillen: "They're on their own. We've got to run. We've got to use the pieces we have. We can't rely on the home run, even though the home run has helped us the last couple games. Those guys have to keep going."

No sign was given. It's up to Bonifacio to focus on Reyes and follow his lead. In that situation, the catcher is almost always going to try to nail the lead runner, since it's a shorter throw. As long as Bonifacio stays alert, he should be able to advance to second easily.

That turned out to be a big play. While Hamels probably pitched differently to Ramirez once runners were on second and third than he would have with runners on first and second, the bottom line is that he got him to ground out to second, then struck out Gaby Sanchez and Austin Kearns to end the inning. Without the double steal, it's entirely possible that Miami wouldn't have grabbed the early lead.

"Definitely, that's part of our game. We're going to try to do it every day," Bonifacio said. "It's hard for the other team, because it puts pressure on them. We're going to have runners in scoring position if we steal. Then it makes it easier for [Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton] to drive us in."

Well, it won't happen every game. But it will happen often enough to make opponents uncomfortable. Just like they dreamed about when Reyes first signed with the Marlins.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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