Ozzie Guillen returns to the dugout for the first time since serving a five-game suspension when his Miami Marlins host the Chicago Cubs in the opener of a three-game series tonight at Marlins Park.
Guillen, who was known for his outspoken demeanor with the Chicago White Sox, was greeted with enthusiasm when he became the Marlins' new manager and was among the centerpieces of a franchise transition that included a new team name, several new players and a brand-new home stadium.
The enthusiasm turned to anger after just five games, however, when Guillen was quoted in Time magazine with words of praise for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro - an outburst that struck a tender nerve in Miami, a city known for its large population of Cuban exiles.
Guillen was suspended five games amid protests from some that the remarks should have cost him his new job.
"A lot of people think five days is not enough," said Tony Perez, a Marlins executive and native Cuban. "A lot of people here have been hurt by Castro for more than 50 years. When something like that comes up, with the new stadium opening right here in Little Havana, that's something people don't forget. We have to live with that and see if people will forget."
Aside from the managerial sideshow, Marlins fans will be looking for a strong outing from ace right-hander Josh Johnson, who won the National League's earned run average crown with a 2.30 effort in 2010, but was limited to just nine starts by injury last season.
The 28-year-old has been raked in dropping his initial two starts this season, allowing 21 hits and nine runs in 9 2/3 innings in losses to St. Louis (4-1) and Philadelphia (7-1) on April 4 and 11.
Opposition hitters have a .447 average against him thus far, more than 200 points higher than his career .243 mark. By contrast, hitters managed just 39 hits against him in 60 1/3 innings last season - a .185 average.
Johnson is 0-1 in three career meetings with the Cubs.
For Chicago, Canadian-born righty Ryan Dempster makes a third 2012 start in search of an initial win.
The 34-year-old allowed just one run on two hits in a no-decision against Washington on April 5, then gave up two runs in five hits in a loss to Milwaukee six days later.
Both games have ended in 2-1 defeats for the Cubs, though Dempster has struck out 15 and walked only six in 14 1/3 innings.
In 521 big-league appearances, he has never faced the Marlins, with whom he began his career and pitched in 124 games between 1998 and 2002.
On Sunday in Miami, Hanley Ramirez hit a game-tying two-run home run in the in the bottom of the eighth and added the winning single with the bases loaded in the 11th, lifting the Marlins to a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros in the finale of a three-game series.
In St. Louis, Matt Carpenter finished 4-for-4 with five runs batted in and a run scored to lift the Cardinals to a 10-3 victory over the Cubs in the finale of a three-game set at Busch Stadium.
Paul Maholm (0-2) lasted just four innings for the Cubs, yielding six runs on six hits to take the loss. Reed Johnson recorded two hits, an RBI and two runs scored and Starlin Castro also knocked in a run.
Chicago has dropped each of its three series to open the season.