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Hot Pen, Odds and Ends

             The Marlins begin the day tied with Atlanta, 4 1/2 games behind first-place Philadelphia in the NL East and three in back of the Colorado Rockies in the wild-card race. The Rockies hit town Friday for a weekend series.

             THROWING ON FUMES -- Since Aug. 5, when Rick VandenHurk managed to go just four innings against the Nationals, the bullpen might as well be wearing an oxen's yoke. At least four relievers have been used in each of the past five Marlins games, and seven of the past eight. Brendan Donnelly, Brian Sanches and Renyel Pinto have appeared in five of the eight games since VandenHurk's quickie while Matt Lindstrom, Leo Nunez and Tim Wood (who was optioned after Wednesday night's outing) pitched in four. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Ricky Nolasco's short (3 1/3 innings) outing on Wednesday that the Marlins could make it through tonight, but was hoping to get six or seven innings from Sean West to give the weary pen a break. I would have to think he'll try to stay away from Pinto, Lindstrom and Kiko Calero. But how much longer can the bullpen hang on at this exhausting rate? They've already logged 377 innings this season, the six-highest figure in the majors.

             NO-SHOW NOLASCO -- One of baseball's unwritten rules requires the starting pitcher to hang around after the game -- win, lose or draw -- to take questions from reporters. The same unwritten policy doesn't exist for closers, but Kevin Gregg, Joe Borowski, Braden Looper and Todd Jones were stand-up guys who always waited at their lockers for questions, even after their ninth-inning meltdowns. The trade-off for this courtesy is that we agree to leave starters alone before each day's outing. No questions, period. This is my 11th year doing this and I can think of only a handful of instances when a starter  failed to stick around after a game. A.J. Burnett not only kissed us off after a rotten start in Philadelphia toward the end of the 2005 season, but swore at us as he walked past us on his way out of the clubhouse. I'm not about to lump the normally cooperative Ricky Nolasco in with Burnett, who was unpredictable and often difficult to deal with (thus, it was no surprise to us when he was sent home with a week to go in the '05 season because of his attitude). But Nolasco did a disappearing act  before we had a chance to talk to him after his 10-run performance last night against the Astros, which was why you didn't see a single quote from him explaining what happened.

             STREAKS -- Last night was the first time since joining the Marlins that Nick Johnson failed to reach base (and, no, reaching via fielder's choice does not count) as a starter. Still, he ranks second in the NL with a .418 on-base percentage -- though a good distance behind Albert Pujols (.446).....With his eighth-inning single, Chris Coghlan extended his hitting streak to 11 straight games. Coghlan is hitting .460 in August, which ranks second to Washington's Ryan Zimmerman (.514) among players with at least 25 at bats this month.

            CLOSE TO COMPLETION -- Anibal Sanchez turned in another strong rehab outing last night when he went seven innings for Double A Jacksonville, allowing a run on four hits. Sanchez didn't allow a hit in his previous start, which was with Single A Jupiter. Plans call for Sanchez to make one more rehab start before the Marlins consider bringing him off the DL and adding him to the rotation.

            JOHN SMOLTZ -- I'm told the chances of Smoltz winding up with the Marlins are remote.

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Del Ray Beach Florist

They really could use some quality innings at the back of the rotation. Sanchez doing just that would be a huge boost.

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