Marlins hurlers excited to face Bonds

Marlins hurlers excited to face Bonds

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bring on Barry.

With history on the line, the Marlins' pitchers are eagerly awaiting the challenge of facing Barry Bonds as the Giants' slugger continues his quest to become baseball's new home run king.

The Marlins open a three-game set against the Giants on Friday night at AT&T Park, and the spotlight of the series will be on the pursuit of 755.

Bonds remains at 753 heading into the series.

Rick Vanden Hurk, a 22-year-old rookie from Holland, will start for the Marlins on Friday. Lefty Dontrelle Willis, who considers Bonds a friend, is set to start on Saturday, and sinkerball pitcher Sergio Mitre is lined up for Sunday.

Lefty reliever Taylor Tankersley, in his second big-league season, is one of the likely late-inning reliever options to face Bonds.

Tankersley, a 24-year-old from Vicksburg, Miss., used a bull-riding analogy to describe the challenge of confronting Bonds.

"That's the biggest, baddest bull ever to get in the ring," said Tankersley, who has never pitched to Bonds. "Why wouldn't you want to get on? Why would you not want that challenge? I've thought about the chance. I'm excited."

For his career, Bonds has 26 home runs against Marlins pitching. One of his benchmark blasts occurred in 2002. At Dolphin Stadium, Bonds connected on No. 601. What stood out about that shot off then rookie Josh Beckett was Bonds shattered his bat.

Turning on an inside fastball, Bonds blasted a liner that sailed over the wall near the right-field foul line. The barrel of the bat whizzed near then Florida first baseman Derrek Lee.

Bonds eventually dropped the bat handle near first base as he circled the bases. On the mound, Beckett let out a laugh as he shook his head in disbelief.

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez says the team will pitch to Bonds as much as possible, but he noted the circumstances of the game will largely dictate how many pitches over the plate the veteran sees.

Vanden Hurk, making his ninth Major League start, is ready to see what happens in his first encounter with Bonds.

"I'll pitch my game and see what we've got," the 6-foot-5 right-hander said. "It's going to be exciting with a lot of people in the stands. He's going to hit it one of these days.

"It's part of baseball. I'm going to pitch, and depending on the situation, it will determine whether I walk him."

Willis, who grew up in the shadows of Oakland in Alameda, has long admired Bonds.

"No one likes giving up home runs, but this is a man I grew up idolizing, and he's one of the reasons I even picked up a baseball," Willis said. "This is a man who impacted my life."

The D-Train said if he gave up the record-tying or record-breaking home run the he would "try to restrain myself from shaking his hand."

"I'll try my best. It's a wonderful achievement. I know the feeling of winning a World Series championship, and I know other ballplayers I've played against are really, sincerely happy for me.

"It's the same feeling among your peers. A lot of people don't get 700 hits, and he's got 700 home runs, and he's had so much adversity on and off the field that you've got to commend him, whether you like him or not. It's very impressive."

Bonds is 1-for-3 with four walks and a strikeout lifetime against Willis.

"We talk a lot. He knows I'm from the Bay Area, and he's always been very nice to me, and I've always had a lot of respect for him for that, him being nice to a young guy," Willis said. "He always talks and jokes around the day I'm starting.

"I told him one time I was going to come after him, and he came after me with some mighty hard swings. I'll try not to get him too riled up this time."

If Mitre gives up the record shot, the even-keeled right-hander won't get too worked up about it.

"It's just a home run," Mitre said. "But it means my name will be in the record books. It means that makes me famous."

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