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It's officially "wait 'til next year" time for Marlins, plus notes from the Steel City

   PITTSBURGH -- In case you missed it, the Marlins were eliminated from wild-card contention yesterday when the Braves swept their doubleheader with the Mets.

   The weather forecast is looking a little shaky here in Pittsburgh. Rain could arrive at 7:30 and hang around for 90 minutes or thereabouts.

   Mike Stanton is back in the lineup, however, and sits two homers behind Albert Pujols in the NL HR race.

   Other items:

     The loss of Josh Johnson clearly stung the Marlins as a team. But manager Jack McKeon said he also feels the injured pitcher’s absence from the rotation since mid-May has had an adverse effect on two of the team’s players: fellow starters Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.

     “When J.J. went down, it looks like they went down with him, instead of rising up,” McKeon said.

      Nolasco, who is pitching tonight, owned a 4-0 record and 3.04 ERA on May 24. Since then, Nolasco has gone 5-10 with a 5.18 ERA. Sanchez was 6-1 with a 2.82 ERA at the end of June. Since then, he’s gone 1-6 with a 5.45 ERA.

     “A lot of times you’ve got that No. 1 guy and he’s setting the tempo for the rest of the staff, and they all want to keep pace with him, and it gives them a little incentive,” McKeon said. “It’s like a friendly competition between those pitchers. We started the season thinking we had three pretty good ones, and then the main guy that provided that competition went down.”

     McKeon said he expects Nolasco and Sanchez to rebound in 2012 once Johnson returns to the rotation.

    “I definitely think they’ll be much better,” McKeon said. “Plus, I think next year, going to the new stadium, there’s going to be more energy and you’re going to see a much improved ballclub

    Nolasco is in the first season of a three-year contract. Sanchez, who will be entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, was approached about a contract extension not long ago.

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    With the arrival of third baseman Matt Dominguez and the recent return of second baseman Omar Infante from the disabled list, veterans such as Greg Dobbs and Jose Lopez are looking at diminished playing time even though both have been productive.

      Both Dobbs (third base) and Lopez (first) were in Friday’s lineup.

     “I’ve already talked to (Dobbs) that we’re going to look at the kid (Dominguez) a little bit, and he understands,” McKeon said. “But I’ve still got to keep him sharp. The guys who have done a yeoman’s job all year, you just can’t ignore them and put them out to pasture.”

     Lopez has come on strong since being recalled from Triple A New Orleans. After going 3 for 29 at the plate in June and earning a demotion to the minors, Lopez has gone 19 for 54 (.352) with five homers and seven doubles since his return in mid-August.

     Dobbs and Lopez are eligible for free agency after the season, and there could be interest from the Marlins.

    “To me he would be a definite asset to this club next year,” McKeon said of Dobbs.

    Lopez said he would give preference to any team that offers him a chance to play everyday.

    “I need to play everyday to keep my rhythm,” Lopez said. “I feel like I could play everyday.”

    Said McKeon of Lopez: “No telling what he’d do if he played on a regular basis. He’s another guy I’m trying to get in there periodically to give him a chance to see where we are for his status next year.”

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    PNC Park is not one of McKeon’s favorite haunts. It’s just a haunt.  

    When McKeon managed the Marlins in 2003-05, they went 1-9 in Pittsburgh even though those Marlins teams all posted winning records and the ’03 club won the World Series.

    McKeon remembers the ’03 visit as it came at the tail end of a 1-8 road trip that also included stops in Colorado and San Francisco. After the San Francisco leg, owner Jeffrey Loria had the team plane stop in Las Vegas to allow the players a few hours to unwind.

    “We came in here after we stopped in Las Vegas, figuring that’ll loosen the guys up,” McKeon said. “And then we come in here and drop three in a row. Then we went back home and won about 20 out of 24, so maybe we’ll do the same thing here.”

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