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Marlins enjoying "late" first-place feel

Fourth of July weekend has a different feel for the Marlins this year -- a first-place feel.

Prior to this weekend, the latest the Marlins held at least a share of first was in 2004 -- when they were 41-37 and tied with the Phillies on June 30th.

Don't think the Marlins haven't noticed either. Catcher John Baker said that although there are still three months left in the season, scoreboard watching is happening more often in the dugout.

"Guys are noticing when the Phillies are down two and we're up one," Baker said. ‘‘I think guys are saying ‘Let's get this thing going.' I know its only July. But this is why we play baseball. I think it makes it that much more fun to know everyday there is something on the line."

The Marlins began the season 11-1 then to as far as eight games back in the standings on June 11 before regrouping behind improved starting pitching, the reemergence of former 15-game winner Ricky Nolasco and a red-hot streak by shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who has thrived driving in runs after some early adjustments in the No. 3 hole.

"I think we're a little bit lucky to be where we are with how we played in May," third baseman Wes Helms said. "But I think it just shows how hard this team has worked to get back on track. I still don't think this team has reached its peak. We can get better and do better things."


Manager Fredi Gonzalez usually brings a cheat sheet with him to remind himself of all the injury news he has to share with the media.

Friday's cheat sheet had more scribbled on it than usual. Most of it, however, should be considered good news:

> Utility man Alfredo Amezaga, examined Thursday by a knee specialist in Vail, Colo., for a bone bruise in his left knee, was told he does not need to have surgery according to Gonzalez and just needs "more rest." Gonzalez said there is still no timetable for Amezaga's return. "Guys heal differently," Gonzalez said.

>Right-hander reliever Kiko Calero will pitch an inning in Single A Jupiter Saturday and again Monday. "If everything goes well," Gonzalez said. "we'll reevaluate him and he'll probably join us in Arizona."

>Former closer Matt Lindstrom played catch Friday on flat ground for the first time since he went on the disabled list with a right elbow strain June 23. Lindstrom wasn't expected to throw for four weeks.

Anibal Sanchez, on the disabled list since June 3, threw a "light bullpen session'' his first since leaving again with a right shoulder sprain.