Marlins welcome back Ruggiano to lineup

JUPITER, Fla. -- Justin Ruggiano's return to the lineup gives the Marlins a much-needed power threat.

The 30-year-old strained his lower back early in Spring Training, and Saturday was his first Grapefruit League game.

Ruggiano played five innings, getting two at-bats, which both resulted in strikeouts against Adam Wainwright. The outfielder is expected to play on Monday when the Red Sox visit Roger Dean Stadium.

Ruggiano is one of the frontrunners to start in center field. Chris Coghlan and Gorkys Hernandez are other possibilities.

"I'm not even worrying about that," Ruggiano said. "I'm worried about me being at my best when Opening Day comes, and I'll let them make those decisions. I don't think anyone in here has solidified themselves enough from what they did last year. I don't think that is important."

Although he was one of the bright spots for Miami last season -- batting .313 with 13 homers in 91 games -- Ruggiano realizes he has to prove himself in the final weeks of Spring Training.

"What I did last year is not going to guarantee me anything for this year," Ruggiano said. "I'm not going to take anything for granted."

Foremost, Ruggiano is looking to stay healthy and get into playing shape.

The Marlins are looking for power bats to help protect Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of the order.

"He just needs to go out and play his game, and do what he does, and that will be enough," manager Mike Redmond said. "He gives us a guy with a little pop we can hit anywhere in that lineup, in the top part of that order. That's definitely an area that we're looking at, somebody to hit behind Stanton. He's definitely a candidate for that."

Physically, Ruggiano is ready. He is confident in his rehab program and the maintenance involved.

It's the mental side that he is adjusting to.

"Really, it's going to be me having the trust that my back is fine," the outfielder said. "If you're apprehensive to do something, because you're worried in the back of your mind that [another injury] is going to happen, then it's likely going to happen. I know my back is strong. I can do all the exercises with flying colors. That's not the issue."

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