SAN DIEGO -- When it comes to hitting a baseball far, Giancarlo Stanton has always been in a class of his own.
Now the Marlins' slugger is developing an approach that is making him one of the most dangerous overall hitters in the game.
Stanton's game-winning, two-run home run in the 11th inning on Thursday night at San Diego is the latest example.
In the decisive at-bat, Padres reliever Dale Thayer had made Stanton look bad with a fastball to make the count 0-2.
It's not like Stanton completely set up Thayer for the next pitch, but the 24-year-old had a pretty good idea he would see another fastball. When he did, he took an easy swing, the ball blistered to center over the fence and the Marlins were on their way to a 3-1 win.
Stanton, normally stoic on the field, couldn't help but smile after connecting.
"That's the last thing I expected ... the way the game was, and that at-bat," Stanton said. "He pitched me the way I was acting in that at-bat. It was more of I knew what was coming. I didn't try to do too much with it. I didn't expect to do that."
Stanton leads the National League with 11 homers. His 40 RBIs pace the big leagues. Keep in mind, the slugger drove in just 62 runs in an injury-plagued 2013.
Now he's emerging as an all-around player, and he's moving up the charts in Marlins' history. Stanton has 128 career homers, which is one behind Derrek Lee for fifth place overall. Since Stanton broke into the big leagues on June 8, 2010, only Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera have hit more home runs in that time frame. Both have 143.
"I don't know if there is a limit," Miami manager Mike Redmond said on Stanton's potential. "I think he's still getting better and still improving. That's probably scary, right? His power is unbelievable. He's still learning his approach and the pitches he can hit and the pitches he can't hit. He's still a young guy. He's still really young."
Surrounded by more veterans, Stanton is able to relax and do his part without feeling he has to do too much.
"He's been great this year," Redmond said. "He's moving around, having fun. You can tell, he's smiling, he's happy. He's just a totally different guy this year from last year.
"I think last year was unfair to him. He felt like he had to do it all. That's not fair for any player. I think this year, we brought some help around him. Good guys who have won. I think that's made him enjoy this a lot more."
'Pen rounding into form with more defined roles
SAN DIEGO -- After a rocky first couple of weeks to the season, the Marlins' bullpen is settling into place.
In Thursday's 3-1 win in 11 innings, the relievers picked up five scoreless innings against the Padres.
"The past week to 10 days, those guys have done a nice job," manager Mike Redmond said. "We had to keep lugging guys in there."
Redmond notes that having Jacob Turner back in the rotation solidifies the bullpen, because Brad Hand and Kevin Slowey can return to their long-relief roles. Both were used as starters in Turner's absence.
Carter Capps and Mike Dunn each tossed one inning vs. San Diego, while A.J. Ramos went two and picked up the win. Steve Cishek finished things up with his seventh save.
The bullpen showed promise during Miami's 8-1 homestand, and the focus is to carry things over to this West Coast road trip.
"Keep doing what we're going," Dunn said. "That's everybody. Just keep focusing on the pitches. It doesn't have to necessarily be the right pitch for the situation, but if you execute it, nine times out of 10 you've got a good chance getting the guy out."
Miami's early-season letdowns were mainly because of poor execution and some questionable pitch selection.
As Dunn notes, throw a quality pitch and chances are you will get a positive result.
"I think it's just continually pounding the strike zone and executing the pitch," Dunn said. "I look back at that homestand, there weren't a lot of walks. We weren't shying away from anybody. We were going right at everybody and attacking them. We've got to keep doing that."
Confident Marlins drawing national attention
SAN DIEGO -- Everybody's talking about the Fish. Talk about a change.
The surprising Miami Marlins entered Friday night in first place in the National League East.
A year ago, the club lost 100 games and pretty much fell out of sight on the national stage. Now, the baseball world has taken notice, and they're wondering if the team is for real.
"Trying to see if we can sustain it," laughed manager Mike Redmond. "That's what they go to next: Can they sustain it?"
The standings in early May, obviously, mean little. And no one wearing a Miami uniform is jumping ahead of themselves. The focus remains on improvement and tightening up areas that need some polish.
"They're talking about the Fish, so that's good stuff," Redmond said. "At the beginning of the year, nobody was talking about us. We've gone out there and we've opened some eyes. That's a testament to these guys and the way they've played and the way they've played together. That's good stuff."
Can the Marlins sustain winning? In the eyes of the organization, that will depend on the pitching.
"At the end of the day, our pitching and defense are going to be the keys," Redmond said. "If we can keep playing like we are, that will answer itself."
The attitude and confidence and resiliency of the club are what's impressing the organization.
"I like the attitude," the manager said. "I like the way we're playing. I like the confidence right now. The guys are having fun. They're playing loose. They're playing relaxed. That's exactly what we needed to do.
"I think the first few weeks of the season, we maybe pressed a little bit. Guys were trying a little bit too hard. After this long homestand, the guys have settled in and relaxed. That's translated into a lot more wins."
• Former Marlins pitcher Alex Sanabia has rejoined the organization. The right-hander, who was recently released by the D-backs, has signed a Minor League deal with Miami.
On Monday, Sanabia will report to the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla., to get game ready. From there, he will join Triple-A New Orleans.
• During batting practice on Friday, the Marlins had a near scare when reliever Carlos Marmol was struck in the back by a line drive while he was loosening up. The right-hander is fine, but initially there was some concern by the freaky incident.