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Hendrickson earns Opening Day nod

Hendrickson earns Opening Day nod

JUPITER, Fla. -- Add being named Opening Day starter to an interesting list of achievements for Mark Hendrickson.

The 6-foot-9 left-hander, who played four seasons in the NBA, was tabbed on Saturday by Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez to pitch in the March 31 opener against the Mets at Dolphin Stadium.

The Marlins are turning to their most seasoned MLB starter in an opener that will receive a great deal of buildup. Any matchup with the Mets is of high interest in South Florida, where there are many transplants from the Northeast.

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"It's a nice honor. It's not something many people can say they've had an opportunity to do," said Hendrickson, who is enjoying a nice Spring Training. "For me, I'm going to approach it like any other start. I've been in enough situations where I can handle the distractions that will inevitably come with that day."

To add to the intrigue, New York is a favorite to win the National League East, and the opener will mark the Mets debut of heralded left-hander Johan Santana, acquired in the offseason from the Twins in a blockbuster trade.

"I feel like I'm as good as good as anybody here to handle it," Hendrickson said. "I've dealt with enough distractions and been in enough big games, both in basketball and baseball. For me, when people asked me about last year and [dealing with] Barry Bonds and the [home run] chase, I was as relaxed as I've been. I wouldn't expect anything different. There will be some distractions, with the pregame ceremonies and all the things that come with it."

Hendrickson was formerly announced to pitch in the first game on a day he was slated to throw against the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale. However, the game was rained out, and Hendrickson will throw a side session on Sunday.

The lefty will next pitch in a Minor League game on Wednesday, on a back field in Jupiter. The reason is the Marlins will face the Mets on Wednesday, and the club doesn't want Hendrickson to face New York five days before the opener.

"We came into camp saying it was open competition, and he's taken the job," Gonzalez said. "He is the Opening Day starter based on the way he's pitched in Spring Training.

"He's surprised me by how well he's been able to add and subtract [speeds] with his fastball and changeup. He watches hitter's swings and makes adjustments."

Hendrickson, entering his sixth big league season, is a 33-year-old who already has the distinction of playing basketball against Michael Jordan and pitching to Bonds. Now, he gets an Opening Day start

"He should write a book," Gonzalez. "That's good stuff."

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While Hendrickson is 6-foot-9, Gonzalez noted he showed agility and quickness the other day fielding a bunt by Juan Pierre of the Dodgers.

In four Spring Training games, Hendrickson has a 1.69 ERA, giving up three runs in 16 innings.

After spending last season with the Dodgers, Hendrickson signed as a free agent with the Marlins for $1.5 million. He comes off a year where he appeared in 39 games and made 15 starts. He went 4-8 with a 5.21 ERA last season in Los Angeles.

For his career, he is 43-55 with a 5.01 ERA in 179 games. He has never pitched on Opening Day at the big league level.

Signed to add experience to a young rotation, Hendrickson moved into the Opening Day spot due to a couple of injuries.

Scott Olsen, 24, was the projected Opening Day starter. But the left-hander is battling back from shoulder tendinitis, which pushed him out of contention to go in the first game.

Sergio Mitre, a right-hander, was also in line to pitch either the opener or the second game. But Mitre is sidelined till June at the earliest with a right forearm strain.

The Marlins have yet to announce the rest of their rotation. But two spots are filled, Hendrickson in the opener, and Olsen will be the fourth starter in a home game against the Pirates.

Because of a pair of early-season off-days, the Marlins will go with a four-man rotation until April 13. The candidates for the other two spots are Rick VandenHurk, Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstad and Burke Badenhop.

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

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