Marlins' mantra in '17: 'Little things' matter

Marlins' mantra in '17: 'Little things' matter

WASHINGTON -- Above the door in Miami's Spring Training clubhouse was a sign reminding the players to pay attention to the "little things." It was a theme preached by manager Don Mattingly throughout camp, and it will remain a focus when the season begins on Monday against Washington at Nationals Park.

In late January, Mattingly sent a letter to everyone in the organization, noting that the small details matter. The players, knowing all that is at stake this season, have bought into the message.

"It's what separates you from winning games and losing games," center fielder Christian Yelich said. "Every game counts, whether it's the first one or the last one. It could come down to a few games, and those one or two you should have won, but you gave them away because you didn't do the little things right. It may come back and bite you at the end of the year."

The Marlins have not had a winning season since 2009. They last made the playoffs in '03, when they won the World Series. Last season started with so much promise, and the Marlins were nine games above .500 on Aug. 1, but things unraveled in the final two months. Miami finished 79-82.

"Doing all the little things that every team talks about, you have to execute them," Mattingly said. "They have to be important to you. We think it's the difference in winning and losing games. Not giving away outs, offensively or defensively. Just being prepared."

Last year ended tragically for the Marlins when Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. His passing served as a reminder not to take anything for granted.

"In terms of just everything," Mattingly said. "Your career. Your perspective. All that stuff. These are small windows. You think your career is forever when you're 23. We saw with Jose, it was [supposed to be] forever and then, boom, it's gone."

The 2016 Marlins were already a tightly-knit club, and they drew even closer after Fernandez's death.

"We feel like our window is right here and right now," Mattingly said. "It may be a small window."

Yelich, an emerging star, is coming off a season in which he batted .298 with 21 home runs and 98 RBIs.

"It's time to win for this team now," Yelich said. "It's not, 'We're going to be good or we're building to be good. We've got to be good now.' To be good, you've got to do the little things."

What closer A.J. Ramos has noticed is how the players are talking about details and holding each other accountable. If someone is late to a meeting, they hear about it.

"That's something that slowly has been part of this locker room. It's doing everything right, on and off the field, as much as possible," Ramos said. "If you do things right off the field, it kind of translates on the field. I think a lot of guys are starting to realize that. If you do the little things, it adds up."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.