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08/18/2004 8:52 PM ET

Notes: Lo Duca gets night off

McKeon credits trades with late success in playoff drive

By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com



LOS ANGELES -- Hampered by a fracture to his left ring finger, Paul Lo Duca was given Wednesday night off.


"Give Paul a day," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "I rather have him for the long haul than I would for one game."


Greeted to tremendous ovations at Dodger Stadium the previous two games, Lo Duca initially injured the finger on a foul tip that occurred shortly after he was dealt from Los Angeles to the Marlins.


"It's been bothering me for two weeks," said Lo Duca, who aggravated the finger twice in Tuesday's 6-1 loss.


Lo Duca tweaked the finger tagging Steve Finley out at the plate on a perfect throw from Juan Encarnacion to end the seventh inning. Playing through it, the two-time All-Star catcher took an at-bat in the eighth inning. He struck out swinging, and on the follow through, grimaced.


The Marlins are off on Thursday before opening a three-game series at San Diego.


McKeon was planning on giving Lo Duca Sunday off, but instead decided to make it a two-day breather.


Lo Duca is hitting .388 (19-for-49) since the trade with 12 RBIs and a .612 slugging percentage. He's hit safely in 11 of his 13 games as a Marlin.


Mike Redmond, who is 4-for-27 over his last eight games, made the start Wednesday.


Lo Duca took batting practice and told McKeon he was available to pinch-hit.


Burnett progressing: The end result didn't go his way, but A.J. Burnett is making steady progress in his comeback from Tommy John surgery.


Burnett (3-6) suffered the loss Tuesday, giving up three runs on four hits in six innings with nine strikeouts and two walks.


Steve Finley smacked a first inning homer, and Hee-Seop Choi had an RBI single in the first inning after Burnett walked two.


"I felt too strong early, but obviously I found my groove," Burnett said. "My curveball wasn't getting over in the first inning. That was the main thing.


"Every time I'm getting a little bit better. I make a mental mistake here and there. I'm giving quality starts almost every time out. The only thing that gets me is we're still 4 1/2, 5 games out. You take every pitch so seriously right now. We needed that win yesterday."


Choi, the former Marlin, smacked a first-pitch Burnett fastball into center field.


Before Wednesday's game, McKeon joked with Choi. The two expressed their admiration for each other.


McKeon joked to the first baseman: "Why did you get a hit with men on? You didn't get any hits with men on for us."


Choi responded: "He left it up here."


Starting to roll: Signs are pointing to the Marlins making a push toward a playoff berth, most realistically as a Wild Card representative.


McKeon credits the enthusiasm of newcomers Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota for a re-energized team.


"Over the last week or so, there has been so much more energy," McKeon said. "There is a sense of urgency. We're coming together for a common cause."


Still in an uphill climb to either capture the Wild Card or overtake the Braves in the National League East, the Marlins are a better lineup with Lo Duca batting third. McKeon is hopeful Encarnacion can also get hot.


Whether that happens remains to be seen since Encarnacion has been bothered by a left-shoulder problem that occurred at Pro Player Stadium in May. While making a diving catch on a low-liner that replays showed he trapped, Encarnacion's shoulder hasn't been right.


Still, even if he isn't hitting, Encarnacion makes the outfield better defensively because he is a natural right fielder, allowing Miguel Cabrera to switch to left.


"At least we're getting a little more consistency in the offense," McKeon said. "We're coming back. That's something we didn't do earlier. Can we sustain it? Who knows."


Ideally, McKeon would have liked the trade with the Dodgers to have occurred a few weeks earlier. But that was out of the team's control since teams tend to wait till the deadline to maximize their leverage.


"[Lo Duca] has been a catalyst," McKeon said. "Maybe we haven't won every game, but he shows you the way."


Locked in at fifth: Sliding from fourth to fifth in the order doesn't bother three-time All-Star Mike Lowell.


"I'd keep it the way it is," Lowell said.


With Lo Duca anchoring the third spot, and Miguel Cabrera possessing so much raw power potential, Lowell isn't bothered sliding out of the cleanup spot.


"Miguel has plus power," Lowell said, noting the 21-year-old can knock the ball out of the park to all fields.


Lowell has slumped since the break, going 7-for-52 over his last 14 games.


With 65 RBIs, Lowell may not reach the 100-RBI plateau for the third time in his career.


Lowell actually sets a goal of 90 RBIs, claiming circumstances can account for the extra 10 runs batted in either up or down.


A year ago, Lowell set career highs with 32 homers and 105 RBIs. The makeup of the order had a lot to do with his success, he said.


Lowell was sandwiched between Ivan Rodriguez and Derrek Lee.


"Without Pudge, they are deferring to me," Lowell said, meaning teams are pitching him more carefully.


Teams were more careful with Rodriguez, perhaps walking him, because Lowell is more likely to hit into a double play. When Lowell delivered, he was belting two or three-run homers. This year, he's swatted a high number of solo shots.


California dreaming: This is a special road trip for reserve outfielder Chris Aguila, who grew up in Redwood City, Calif.


The 25-year-old had never set foot in Dodger Stadium before the series started.


"I was a big Giants fan as a kid, so I rooted against the Dodgers," Aguila said. "But it's still cool to come here. The Dodgers have had great talent and great teams. This is a place you always wanted to play."


Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


c/o MLB.com

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