Ross eyeing starting job

Relaxed Ross has sights set on center-field job

JUPITER, Fla. -- In a wide open center-field race, Cody Ross realizes he has no guarantees with the Marlins in Spring Training. But the versatile outfielder does have something he was missing this time last year: peace of mind.

A year ago, Ross entered Spring Training with the Dodgers knowing he wasn't part of their plans. Out of options, he realized he was auditioning for other clubs.

At the time, he was hopeful to be dealt to the Marlins, because the 2006 Florida squad was giving opportunities to young players. The 26-year-old ended up being traded to the Marlins on May 26, but not from the Dodgers. Ross first was sent to the Reds on April 24, and later moved to the Marlins for a player to be named later (lefty pitcher Ben Kozlowski).

Now, Ross finds himself in the mix for the Marlins open center-field job. Able to play all three outfield spots, he is a frontrunner to be the fourth or fifth outfielder if he doesn't win a starting spot.

"It's a way better feeling this year," said Ross, who bats right-handed and throws lefty. "Last year, I went into Spring Training with pretty much zero chance of making the team, with the guys they were throwing out there in L.A.

"I didn't feel like I was part of the team during the spring. I was the guy on the backfields. I made every single road trip. Every single one. Sometimes I didn't play, even though I was out of options. I think it is going to be a lot of different this spring."

Ross ended up getting some playing time when Kenny Lofton was sidelined with an injury. Essentially, the Dodgers were showcasing Ross for other teams.

"Unfortunately, Kenny Lofton got hurt, and fortunately I was the one to take his spot because I had a decent spring," he said. "Pretty much all through Spring Training, I thought I was going to get traded. I thought I was going to either be traded or put on waivers. I didn't know what was going on. It's just such a better feeling now. It's just so much more calming. This spring I can come in and work on stuff and get ready for the season."

With a more settled situation, Ross hopes to build on his 2006 numbers. His combined numbers from three teams was a .227 average (61-for-269) with 13 home runs and 46 RBIs.

With the Marlins, he batted .212 with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs. Ross ended up being part of league history. The Marlins in 2006 had five rookies with 10 or more home runs. He joined Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Willingham and Mike Jacobs. The only other team with five rookies to hit double-digit homers was the 1958 Giants: Orlando Cepada, Willie Kirkland, Bob Schmidt, Leon Wagner and Jim Davenport.

In an up-and-down year, Ross also placed his name in the Marlins' record book. On Sept. 11, he belted three home runs and drove in seven runs in a win over the Mets. Going deep three times matched Mike Lowell (2004) for the most by a Marlin in a game. And the seven runs batted in established a franchise mark.

Ironically, Ross had two seven RBI games in 2006. The other was when he was with the Dodgers on April 13 against the Pirates.

The trade to the Reds was frustrating for Ross. It miffed him because, like the Dodgers, Cincinnati was set in the outfield. But at the time, the Reds were looking for outfield help because Ken Griffey Jr. was injured.

Immediately, Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky told Ross his stay in Cincinnati could be a short one.

"The only reason I was there because Griffey was hurt," Ross said. "But Wayne Krivsky was so good. He was straight forward. He said, 'Listen, I don't know what's going to go on. Don't go out and get an apartment yet. Don't do anything yet.'

"They tried to keep me as long as they could, they put me on a rehab assignment, but it just got to a point where they couldn't hold on to me any longer."

So when the Marlins made the deal with the Reds, Krivski told the outfielder: "We've got bad news for us, but good news for you. You've got traded."

"I was like, 'You're serious?' That's what happens when you're out of options, and you don't have a role on a specific team, you might have to bounce around a little bit before you get a good fit with an organization," Ross said.

With the Marlins, Ross appears to have found a nice fit. He can back up Willingham in left and Jeremy Hermida in right when not playing center.

"It's wide open," Ross said of the center-field battle. "That's what's so great about this game. We're all going to get an opportunity to show what we can do. And we're all going to fight for that center field job."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.