Ruggiano set to make spring debut Saturday

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Playing in some games is the first step for Justin Ruggiano. From there, performance will determine if he wins the Marlins' center field job.

The first step is expected to be taken on Saturday.

Manager Mike Redmond said Thursday morning that Ruggiano is scheduled to start in center field on Saturday when the Marlins face the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.

Ruggiano, 30, has yet to play in a Grapefruit League game due to a strained lower back, which he experienced the first few days of Spring Training.

"We'll try to get him in there for a couple of at-bats," Redmond said. "He's going to do everything -- full BP, and run around in the outfield a little bit. We'll get him out there. Get him moving around a little bit. He says he is ready. He is excited to go."

Ruggiano's return will heat up the center field competition.

The field is wide open.

Chris Coghlan is making a case with a strong Spring Training. Coghlan started in center field on Thursday against the Mets at Tradition Field. And Gorkys Hernandez, who is out of options, is a terrific defensive player who has to show he can hit enough to be a big league regular.

In recent days, Ruggiano has increased his baseball-related activities. On Thursday, he did some fielding and hitting at the Roger Dean Stadium complex.

A year ago, Ruggiano was one of the Marlins' most consistent players, batting .313 with 13 home runs and 36 RBIs in 91 games.

However, he did miss time with a back ailment. What he did last year doesn't guarantee him a spot.

"He did a nice job last year, but you still have to earn it," Redmond said. "He's been banged up. We need to get him on the field. Coghlan has done a nice job out there. Gorkys Hernandez, we continue to run him out there. I think it's going to be a nice competition out there, to see who steps up and takes that job.

"What you did last year, it does count. But at the same time, too, it's what have you done for me lately? It just is."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter