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Rookies go from Xbox hockey foes to Marlins teammates in two months

        Back in spring training, Brad Hand and Steve Cishek -- two of the emerging young hurlers on the Marlins -- took part in nightly Xbox battles playing NHL 11. They put together a 3-on-3 tournament, with Hand, Tom Koehler and Jacob Smolinski teamed against Cishek, Brett Hayes and Kris Harvey.

     Belt    They crafted a "championship belt" out of cardboard, aluminum foil and bullet casings and instructed their girlfriends not to call during their intense, nightly matches. Hand, who was the leading scorer on his high school hockey team in Chaska, Minn., was fairly skilled at the games.

        "We (the teams) lived in two different apartments and we played over the internet," Cishek said. "We talked over the microphone -- talked trash -- and whoever won had to come get the title belt."

        None of them, save for catcher Hayes, figured to see the light of day with the Marlins anytime soon. The starting rotation was set, and Hand wasn't even in the top three on the minor-league depth chart. Alex Sanabia, Sean West, Elih Villanueva and even Tom Koehler would have projected ahead of Hand.

        Though Cishek had pitched in September for the Marlins, the bullpen was also standing room only in spring training -- so full, in fact, that Burke Badenhop had to start the season in the minors even though he was drawing a big-league salary.

         Their arrivals show just how quickly everything can change. Hand was promoted from Double A Jacksonville to take Josh Johnson's spot in the rotation, but only because Jay Buente failed his audition, the Marlins didn't want to repeat a "bullpen game" strategy that was employed in Los Angeles, Sanabia and West were injured, and Villanueva and Koehler were impressing at Triple A New Orleans. A series of roster moves prompted Cishek's promotion from Triple A.

          Both have dazzled during their brief stays so far. Hand gave up only one hit to the Braves -- a solo home run by Alex Gonzalez -- over six full innings in his major league debut on Tuesday. He returns to the mound Sunday to face the Diamondbacks. With Leo Nunez nursing a stiff back, Cishek notched his first major league save in Friday's win over Arizona. He has yet to allow a run in 12 2/3 innings with the Marlins, which includes his time with the team late last season.

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          Nunez played catch on Saturday, could throw a bullpen session either Sunday or Monday, and might  be available to pitch on Tuesday when the Marlins open a four-game series in Philadelphia....Hanley Ramirez, who went 2-for-3 in a DH-only role on Friday in a rehab game at Single A Jupiter, will play the field for the Hammerheads tonight in Port St. Lucie. The Marlins are expecting him back on Tuesday, as well. 

       LINEUP:

      Marlins: 1. Chris Coghlan, cf; 2. Omar Infante, 2b; 3. Logan Morrison, lf; 4. Gaby Sanchez, 1b; 5. Mike Stanton, rf; 6. Greg Dobbs, 3b; 7. John Buck, c; 8. Emilio Bonifacio, ss; 9. Javier Vazquez, p.

      Diamondbacks: 1. Ryan Roberts, 3b; 2. Kelly Johnson, 2b; 3. Justin Upton, rf; 4. Stephen Drew, ss; 5. Chris Young, cf; 6. Miguel Montero, c; 7. Xavier Nady, 1b; 8. Gerardo Parra, lf; 9. Ian Kennedy, p.

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