Sports

Slugger Stanton eager to rebound from awful 2016 season

FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2016, file photo, Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton watches batting practice before a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, in Miami. For slugger Giancarlo Stanton and his Marlins teammates, it won’t be that difficult for 2017 to be better than 2016. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2016, file photo, Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton watches batting practice before a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, in Miami. For slugger Giancarlo Stanton and his Marlins teammates, it won’t be that difficult for 2017 to be better than 2016. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

JUPITER, Fla. — The Instagram photo Giancarlo Stanton posted last November shows him sitting atop a camel and both of them grinning.

Arms outstretched from a sleeveless T-shirt, Stanton looks large as always, even with the Great Pyramids in the background. He also looks as though he's trying to get as far away from an awful season as possible.

Stanton's stats made for a disappointing year, his second in a row since signing a record $325 million, 13-year contract. He was batting .193 in mid-June, finished at a career low .240, and sat out nearly a month late in the season with a strained groin as the Miami Marlins faded from playoff contention.

"Not one to remember for the good, I'll tell you that," Stanton said. "You learn some things the hard way, look back at what went wrong and get stronger from it."

Hardest of all was the death of teammate Jose Fernandez in a boat crash a week before the end of the season. Stanton, never the demonstrative sort, nonetheless assumed a very public leadership role in the difficult days that followed, including when he delivered an emotional speech to his teammates at the mound before their first game without Fernandez.

The ordeal made travel buff Stanton even more eager to get away when the season ended. Along with the Instagram from Egypt, he posted photos from the Champs-Elysees, Dubai Water Canal and Western Wall in Jerusalem.

"I like to see the way other people live," the California native said. "It's not just the American dream everywhere, you know?"

Stanton also travelled with Marlins closer A.J. Ramos and former teammate Ricky Nolasco to Rio de Janeiro, where they paid tribute to Fernandez by painting a mural on a graffiti wall.

"Just a way to celebrate his life and give a part of him to the world," Stanton said.

For the Marlins slugger, the travel itinerary provided an opportunity to grieve in private after the public mourning of the season's final week.

"Imagine one of your best friends dying, and every move from the moment you wake up, there's a camera getting your reaction," he said. "Even at the funeral, there were cameras everywhere. I understand that's what has to go on. But it was very peaceful to get away from that."

While healing is ongoing, for Stanton there's also the challenge of staying healthy. He missed 43 games last year and 88 in 2015, with injuries a big reason he's regarded as an underachiever despite 208 career home runs.

Stanton's the game's most prodigious slugger, as anyone who saw last year's Home Run Derby will attest. He won it with a record 61 homers.

But he has never hit 40 homers for the Marlins, and has only a single 100-RBI season. The seven-year veteran still struggles to lay off outside breaking balls, which makes him prone to lengthy slumps.

"You'd like to see more consistency within what he's doing and trying to do," manager Don Mattingly said Thursday.

During a monthlong funk last season, Stanton went 12 for 89 (.135) with 41 strikeouts.

"It wasn't that much fun to watch," Mattingly said, "and probably a lot less fun for him to go through it."

"When you're in that deep of a hole," Stanton said, "you have to find different ways to get out of it. You have to break out of it faster."

His close friend Ramos offered an excuse, saying Stanton quietly battled hand and groin injuries that affected his swing for months.

"He will never tell you that; I will tell you that," Ramos said. "He was hurt a lot of the season. Now, I think this is the healthiest he has been coming into spring training, and if he's healthy he's going to do great."

Straddling that camel in the desert, Stanton was able to smile, another season on the horizon. The Marlins have increased their payroll, which includes his $14.5 million salary. Even without Fernandez, hopes are high.

For Stanton and his teammates, it won't be that difficult for 2017 to be better than 2016.

"Last year was a lot on all of us," he said, "so I think it's good to start clean."