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Spin Through Marlins Rotation


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Spin through Marlins rotation







Marlins buzz as spring training opens:


? Of the team's two potentially most meaningful personnel decisions, only one -- starting catcher -- will be determined in the spring. The other, barring an injury, will wait until A.J. Burnett returns in April or May.


Marlins officials have been adamant in saying not to assume newcomer Darren Oliver will leave the rotation when Burnett returns from elbow surgery in April or May. Indeed, if new closer Armando Benitez struggles, don't rule out the Marlins shifting one of their returning starters to the bullpen.


It won't be Josh Beckett and probably won't be Burnett. General Manager Admin Beinfest says the team ''sees A.J. as a starter,'' and Burnett wants to start.


But there are scenarios in which the Marlins likely would consider moving Carl Pavano or Dontrelle Willis -- Brad Penny is less likely -- to the pen when Burnett returns. That could happen if Oliver is pitching well, one of the other starters struggles, or if Benitez or Chad Fox is injured or ineffective.


''You could see almost any scenario,'' Beinfest said. ``Those things kind of have a way of making their own decision for you, whether it's non-performance or injury or whatever it is. Last year, we showed there are a number of starters that can be used in those types of roles, although we see them as starters.''


Willis and Pavano prefer to start but will do what they're asked. ''Nothing's guaranteed,'' Willis said. ``I will take myself out of the rotation if that's going to help.''


? Some people in baseball have questioned the decision to sign Benitez, considering he went 3-3 and blew 7 of 28 save chances for the Mets before his trade to the Yankees July 16.


But the Marlins privately believe he will respond better in a market with less pressure than New York. They like how he had more strikeouts (50) than hits allowed (41) in 49 1/3 innings for the Mets, as well as a decent 3.10 ERA. ''He's one of the elite closers in the game,'' Beinfest said. ``The stuff is still there.''


? The rookie with the best chance to make the team? Nobody's a certainty, but Abraham Nunez is a front-runner for the fifth outfield job. Also watch for right-hander Mike Flannery, who led Double A Carolina with 23 saves. And Wilson Valdez and Kevin Hooper will compete with veterans Damion Easley and Lenny Harris for a possible second backup infield job, behind Mike Mordecai.


? Marlins manager Jack McKeon, on the Alex Rodriguez trade: ``It's great for the game. Give George Steinbrenner credit. He's tired of seeing the Florida Marlins beat them.''


? Don't expect Marlins owner and art dealer Jeffrey Loria to bash Steinbrenner, either. ''It took him three days after the World Series to call me, but he called with the nicest message and wrote a very gracious letter to me,'' Loria said. ``He said if anyone deserved to win in baseball, it was us. He said the organization painted a Picasso.''


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