Notes: Messenger up for closer role

Notes: Messenger hoping to close in on job

JUPITER, Fla. -- Don't rule out Randy Messenger winning the Marlins' closer race.

The 25-year-old, who had an up-and-down 2006 campaign in various relief roles, is healthy and confident that he can handle whatever situation is presented. Ultimately, he makes no secret about his aspirations.

"It's really up to [management], who they decide to be closer," Messenger said Sunday. "But as of right now, I feel like it's my job to take.

"It's mine for the taking; that's how I feel. If I don't take it, it's my fault."

The early front-runner to assume the closer spot is Kevin Gregg. Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens are also in the mix now that lefty Taylor Tankersley is resting his arm due to shoulder inflammation. If Messenger performs during Grapefruit League action, he can battle his way into the mix.

With 88 big-league games of experience, Messenger has a 2-7 career mark and a 5.55 ERA. He appeared in 59 games a year ago and was 2-7 with a 5.67 ERA, striking out 45 while walking 24 in 60 1/3 innings.

Messenger turned in a strong 1 1/3-inning performance in Sunday's 12-3 loss to the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. He retired all four batters he faced on 12 pitches, striking out two.

Messenger, who has a 95-mph fastball to go along with a slider, split-finger fastball and curveball, has closing experience in the past. In 2004 for Double-A Carolina, he had 21 saves, and he added seven more saves for Triple-A Albuquerque in 2005.

A year ago, Messenger was counted on in setup situations early, but in the second half, he struggled with his consistency and didn't get as many opportunities.

In June, he was outstanding, giving up one earned run in 9 1/3 innings. On the flip side, he floundered in August, giving up 15 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings (13.06 ERA).

"I think I started trying too hard and aiming everything, instead of letting my pitches work themselves," Messenger said. "That's my biggest problem, I think."

Recently, Marlins assistant general manager Mike Hill joked around with Messenger about consistency.

"Mike said, 'I want the Mess of May and June. I don't want the Mess of August. We need you for 162.' I said, 'All right, Mike. I got you. I'm not going to let you down,'" Messenger said. "At first I was pitching a lot, and then [former manager Joe] Girardi stopped using me. He was putting me in once in a while. When you are using someone as much as I was being used at the beginning of the season, you can't turn away from me or turn your back on me. ... I didn't throw for a week and a half.

"This year, it's a whole new ballgame. You've got a bunch of young kids who have great arms. But as long as I throw my pitches consistently for strikes -- all of my pitches -- I look at it as this is my time to shine."

Ramirez vs. Matsuzaka: Preparations already are under way for when the Red Sox arrive at Roger Dean Stadium for a Tuesday Grapefruit League game.

Boston is starting Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Roger Dean Stadium officials are bracing for an additional 150 media members who have signed up to cover the game.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Marlins are planning to have Hanley Ramirez lead off.

A former Red Sox standout prospect, Ramirez was the 2006 National League Rookie of the Year. He was obtained by Florida as part of the Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell trade after the 2005 season.

While Ramirez is slotted to be the first batter Matsuzaka faces, the Marlins are leaning toward resting Miguel Cabrera.

A three-time All-Star, Cabrera, is slated to play Sunday and Monday, and be off on Tuesday.

Yusmeiro Petit is scheduled to pitch for Florida.

Olsen backed to wall: What Scott Olsen got out of his 2 1/3-inning stint Sunday was not the fact he gave up two runs on three hits with three walks. In talking with pitching coach Rick Kranitz, Olsen realized his tempo between pitches was slower than it was in 2006.

So in the third inning, he worked on picking up his pace.

A year ago, Olsen said he found a rhythm largely by doing a "wall drill" that was recommended by Kranitz. Basically, in warmups, Olsen would go to the outfield wall. He would put his back close to the wall and go into his windup. If his arms touched the wall, he knew he was out of sync.

"When I go slow, my knee comes up real slow and it opens before it starts going down. I don't ride out my leg," Olsen said. "It opens, and that causes my shoulder to open and it causes my shoulder to fly [open]. The faster I go, the less I think, and I just get up and get down.

"Kranny told me last year to try it [wall drill]. The first couple of days, I was running into that wall, but it got better. Hopefully, it's only that little [adjustment]."

Martinez arrives: Because of green-card issues, reliever Carlos Martinez had difficulty leaving the Dominican Republic to attend camp.

Recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, Martinez isn't optimistic he will pitch at all in 2007. The hard-throwing right-hander was the surprise of Spring Training a year ago, making the leap from Class A to the big leagues. He was on the Opening Day roster and appeared in 12 games.

He underwent Tommy John surgery on July 6.

He has been throwing off flat ground, but not off the mound. Should he progress enough to pitch in 2007, it would be after the All-Star break.

Fish bites: Sergio Mitre threw a bullpen session Sunday, and he will toss a simulated game Tuesday. If all goes well, Mitre would be in line to see his first Grapefruit League action on March 11. ... Top prospect Chris Volstad got a good taste of big-league life when he worked 2 2/3 innings, giving up four runs (two earned) on six hits with a walk and two strikeouts. The 6-foot-7 20-year-old was able to face Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Chris Duncan.

Coming up: On Monday, the Marlins return to Fort Lauderdale Stadium to take on the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. ET. Ricky Nolasco gets the start, and the right-hander will throw about three innings or 40 pitches.

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