Rookie Uggla becoming name player for Marlins


It's an easy name for bad puns, yet not real simple to pronounce.

Dan Uggla -- as in UGH-gla.

You might want to remember it. Because it's a name that will get serious consideration in the National League Rookie of the Year race.

"He's just been wonderful," Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi said of Uggla, the 26-year-old second baseman who skipped Triple-A. "He is everything a manager wants in a player. He's a guy that plays hard, prepares hard and makes adjustments on the fly."

The baby Marlins were expected to have a Rookie of the Year contender this season. Outfielder Jeremy Hermida was the trendy pick. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez was a possibility. Josh Willingham had a chance.

But the best emerging story of the Marlins' first half is Uggla, a 5-foot-11 fireplug with plenty of pop in his bat.

"It's been a whirlwind," said Uggla, who's leading all NL rookies in batting average and had 13 homers and 43 RBIs in his first 265 big league at-bats. "There's been a lot of things I've never experienced before."

Like the majors.

Uggla was an 11th-round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, and he slowly moved up the organizational ladder, hitting well at every rung. But he was buried on the Diamondbacks' depth chart and was left off the 40-man roster this winter. That allowed the Marlins to pick him up in the Rule 5 draft, meaning he'd have to stick all season with Florida or be offered back to Arizona.

It was a great opportunity for Uggla, since the Marlins were starting the mother of all rebuilding projects.

"I was obviously very excited because they had just gotten rid of everybody," Uggla said.

He had a good spring and made the team. And after batting .205 in his first 12 games, he got hot and hasn't stopped. Now, he's staring at a possible All-Star Game appearance. But for a guy who spent five seasons in the minors waiting for a chance, he's not getting too excited about what-ifs.

"Rookie of the Year, that would be great," he said. "I'm not thinking about it right now, obviously. There are a lot of things to be worried about other than the end of the year right now."

L. Hernandez struggles

The Washington Nationals' Livan Hernandez (5-8, 5.64 ERA) is going through one of the worst stretches of his career. He leads the league in hits allowed and lasted 1 2/3 innings Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox, matching his shortest-ever outing.

The big right-hander's fastball velocity has, at times, been clocked at 80 mph, but Hernandez said he's not hurt. And he's not worried either.

"A lot of people expect me to pitch the same as last year," said Hernandez, who had 12 wins at the 2005 All-Star break. "People don't understand that it's not going to happen every year. Right now, I've got five wins and the ERA is a little high. But there's a lot of baseball that's coming."

That baseball could come in another uniform if the Nationals can persuade someone to give up prospects for Hernandez, who is owed $7 million next year.

Quick hits

Luis Gonzalez's rough first half has all but guaranteed the Diamondbacks won't be picking up his $10 million club option at season's end. ... Florida's Dontrelle Willis notched his 50th win in 108 career starts, reaching that milestone in the eighth-fewest games.

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