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Florida at Washington

Venue: Nationals Park

The budget-conscious Florida Marlins used a young, talented group of players to become surprise contenders for a large part of the season. Apparently, they have a crop of promising prospects ready to help next year, too.

After getting a big game at the plate from a couple of rookies, the Marlins look to continue their dominance at Washington this season as they conclude a three-game set with the Nationals on Thursday night.

Florida (82-76), which had by far the lowest opening-day payroll at $22 million, was in first place in the NL East early in the season before falling off and officially getting eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday night.

After deciding not to go after pricey free agents, the Marlins will finish with a winning record for the first time in three years thanks largely to perhaps the most talented young group of players in the majors. With four games remaining, the Marlins now have a chance to showcase a couple of players that may get a chance to contribute in 2009.

Top prospects Cameron Maybin and Gaby Sanchez combined for six hits in Florida's 9-4 win over Washington (59-99) on Wednesday night, giving the Marlins seven wins in eight road games versus the Nationals.

The Marlins gave Sanchez - the club's minor league player of the year in 2006 - his first major league start and he responded by going 3-for-5 with two doubles and an RBI. Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez thinks Sanchez is close to being ready for full-time duty in the majors.

"You hate to put any kind of pressure on anybody, but he's close," Gonzalez said of the 25-year-old first baseman. "With the year he had in Double-A, and what we saw in spring training, I think the man is close."

Sanchez, a fourth-round draft pick in 2005, was the MVP of the Southern League after hitting .314 with 17 homers, 42 doubles and 92 RBIs at Double-A Carolina.

Maybin - Sanchez's teammate at Carolina this season - went 3-for-3 plus a sacrifice bunt to raise his average to .500 (14-for-28). The 21-year-old center fielder was one of the players Florida acquired last offseason when it sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit.

Now, the Marlins will put one of their gifted young pitchers on the mound, with Anibal Sanchez (2-5, 5.57 ERA) getting the start.

Sanchez left Florida's game Saturday night against Philadelphia in the sixth inning because of a cramp in his right hamstring. He gave up three runs and four hits while striking out eight in 5 2-3 innings as the Marlins lost 3-2.

Sanchez has been inconsistent since rejoining the rotation in July following surgery last year. The 24-year-old right-hander is 0-1 with a 2.84 ERA in his last two starts - getting a total of three runs of support - but is 0-3 with an 8.00 ERA in four road starts this season.

Sanchez is 3-0 with a 3.16 ERA in seven starts versus the Nationals.

Washington will counter with rookie right-hander Collin Balester (3-6, 4.83 ERA), who is 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA and a .128 opponents batting average in two starts against the Marlins.

Balester labored through five innings against San Diego on Friday night, giving up five runs and nine hits as Washington lost 11-6 in 14 innings.

Balester may not have the Nationals' usual left side of the infield behind him, with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and shortstop Cristian Guzman missing Wednesday's game with the flu. Their status for this game is uncertain.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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Probable Starters

Anibal Sanchez, RHP
2008 stats
51.2 Innings Pitched 78.1
2-5 Wins-Losses 3-6
5.57 Earned Run Average 4.83
27 Walks 27
50 Strikeouts 49
88 Pitches Per Start 92
Career vs. opponent
42.2 Innings Pitched 11.2
3-0 Wins-Losses 1-0
3.16 Earned Run Average 1.54

Collin Balester, RHP
weather image  Light rain. Overcast. Cool.
Hi TempLo TempWindHumidityPrecip %
TeamStandingsWLPct.GBL 10Strk
Florida5th NL East7290.444303-7 L 1
Washington1st NL East9164.587-8-2 W 4
vs Collin Balester
de la Cruz000000
vs Anibal Sanchez
R. ChoateArm
S. CousinsBack
J. JohnsonShoulder
L. NunezSuspension
H. RamirezShoulder
T. JordanElbow
J. KobernusHand
N. McLouthShoulder
R. OhlendorfBack
M. PurkeElbow
J. ZimmermannShoulder
Series Game Log
Mar 31NYMWAS 9-7Barrett Familia 
Apr 2NYMWAS 5-1Gonzalez Colon 
Apr 3NYMWAS 8-2Roark Wheeler 
May 16WASWAS 5-2Roark Niese 
May 17WASNYM 5-2Colon Gonzalez 
May 18WASWAS 6-3Zimmermann Wheeler 
Aug 5WASNYM 6-1Wheeler Gonzalez 
Aug 6WASWAS 7-1Fister Niese 
Aug 7WASWAS 5-3Stammen Torres 
Aug 12NYMWAS 7-1Fister Montero 
Aug 13NYMWAS 3-2Zimmermann Colon 
Aug 14NYMWAS 4-1Strasburg Gee 
Sep 11NYMWAS 6-2Roark Colon 
Sep 12NYMNYM 4-3Gee Gonzalez 
Sep 13NYMWAS 10-3Fister Wheeler 
Sep 14NYMWAS 3-0Zimmermann Niese 
Sep 23WAS 7:05 PM EDT  
Sep 24WAS 7:05 PM EDT  
Sep 25WAS 7:05 PM EDT