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Stanton closing in on 150 homer milestone

MIAMI — The next home run Giancarlo Stanton hits will be the 150th of his career. If the Marlins’ MVP-candidate right fielder does it soon, he will be joining some elite company.

Stanton has a chance to become the ninth youngest player in MLB history to reach the milestone. But he has to hit No. 150 in the next three days.

Stanton enters Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers at 24-years, 284-days old. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, currently the ninth youngest, belted No. 150 at 24-years, 288-days old.

The youngest player ever to get to 150 was Hall of Famer Mel Ott (23/196).

Stanton made his MLB debut at age 20 on June 8, 2010. Since then, he’s been one of the most feared power hitters in the game. The slugger currently paces the Majors with 32 homers.

There also is a strong chance Stanton could become the Marlins’ all-time home run leader by the end of the season. Dan Uggla holds the mark at 154.

Youngest Players to 150 Career Home Runs, All-Time

1) Mel Ott, 23-196

2) Eddie Mathews, 23-332

3) Andruw Jones, 24-158

4) Ken Griffey Jr., 24-180

5) Albert Pujols, 24-212

6) Alex Rodriguez, 24-255

7) Mickey Mantle, 24-255

8) Jimmie Foxx, 24-263

9) Johnny Bench, 24-288

10) Frank Robinson, 24-326

11) Orlando Cepeda, 24-341

12) Miguel Cabrera, 25-77

– Joe Frisaro

Dunn stunned to be team wins leader

MIAMI — When Jose Fernandez went down with season-ending elbow surgery in May, the Marlins were looking for someone to step up. For the most part, Henderson Alvarez has done so, establishing himself as the interim ace.

Alvarez rose to the occasion and even made the All-Star team.

But the surprise pitcher on the roster, at least in terms of wins, has been setup lefty Mike Dunn. On Thursday night, he threw two scoreless innings. As the game played out, the Marlins rallied to beat the D-backs, 5-4, in 10 innings.

The victory went to Dunn, which has been common for much of the season.

Now 10-5 with a 3.65 ERA, Dunn’s line reads more like a starter than a reliever. The 10 wins also are the most of any reliever in the Majors, with Pittsburgh’s Tony Watson next with 8.

Dunn leads the Marlins in victories, and he set a franchise record for most wins in a season by a reliever. Jarred Cosart also has won 10, but nine of them came before he was traded from the Astros to Miami on July 31.

Taking it all in stride, Dunn says he would hand all the wins over to starters if it meant he could get holds for their performances. The rest of Miami’s bullpen is having fun with the 10 wins, joking that Dunn is a “vulture,” striking when wins are for the taking.

On Thursday night, Dunn’s bullpen mates flapped their arms, their vulture symbol.

What Dunn has done, actually, is interesting.

Dunn not only paces the Marlins in victories, he has more wins than a number of prominent starting pitchers.

Starts with nine wins include, Jason Hammel, Homer Bailey, John Danks, R.A. Dickey, Aaron Harang, Stephen Strasburg, Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura and C.J. Wilson.

With eight wins, the list includes Tim Hudson, Jesse Chavarez, Chris Archer, Anibal Sanchez and Jordan Zimmermann.

Joe Frisaro

Time to make push in standings

MIAMI — The time is now if the Marlins hope to make a serious push to get back in the playoff race.

At 59-61, there is little margin for error, and certainly not much room to recover from a losing stretch. Plus, the schedule is favorable with the D-backs in town for four games, and then the Rangers at Marlins Park for two Interleague games next week.

Overall, there are plenty of encouraging signs of late for the Marlins, who are coming off taking two of three against the Cardinals.

What the team must avoid is a letdown against sub-.500 clubs.

“The big thing [Thursday], with Arizona coming in for four, we can’t take our foot off the gas,” third baseman Casey McGehee said. “We’ve got to treat every game the same, and hopefully continue to have a good homestand, and continue to put pressure on the teams ahead of us.”

The Marlins enter the series in third place, seven games behind the Nationals, in the National League East. They’re 4 1/2 games out in the Wild Card race, with five teams ahead of them.

For the most part, the club has done well, posting a 15-11 record since the All-Star Break.

Joe Frisaro

Building around Stanton high Marlins priority

MIAMI — Giancarlo Stanton is heating up again, and so is speculation about his long-term future.

We’ve been down this road before, and will continue to do so until the slugger either signs an extension with the Marlins, or moves elsewhere.

This is a time the Marlins are doing plenty of scoreboard watching, as they’ve moved one game back of the Braves for second place in the National League East. The Marlins are focused on making a playoff push. It’s also a time Stanton has homered in eight of his last 13 games, and playing at an MVP level.

With Stanton, increased invariably leads to questions about, what’s next?

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com recently reported there is skepticism in the Marlins’ front office that Stanton will sign a long-term deal with Miami. If that is the case, the question becomes, does the club keep him or trade him in the offseason?

Naturally, that set off a wave of stories, primarily out of Boston, regarding Stanton.

In conversations with numerous sources, here’s what I’ve learn:

* As an organization, the Marlins have not thrown in the towel on any chance of signing one of the most feared hitters in the game. The intention is to build around Stanton, and in the offseason make a serious multi-year contract offer.

* Here’s the most important piece of information.

With or without a long-term contract, the Marlins are prepared to retain Stanton as long as possible, even if that means waiting it out through the start of his free agency, which is after the 2016 season.

Some may scoff, Stanton’s value will decrease. The Marlins don’t see it that way. His value to the club is far greater than moving him before they absolutely have to. This team can be a serious playoff contender in 2015 and ’16. They’ll take their chances in regards to 2017.

* And say, there is an huge trade opportunity out there, for the Marlins to even consider trading Stanton, it won’t be strictly a “prospects deal.” You’re not going to see a repeat of the Miguel Cabrera trade. It’s not going to be Stanton for six prospects.

At the Trade Deadline this July, the Red Sox showed what the price of a rental could be when they dealt Jon Lester to the A’s for Yoenis Cespedes. Proven big league talent for big league talent.

The Marlins would not be looking for a package of prospects. It could include include top prospects, but it would require major pieces off another club’s big league roster.

That’s pretty much where the Stanton situation stands.

Also from what I’ve gathered, the Marlins are upbeat about what is being built in Miami. They fully intend to retain their core.

This is a team that went 62-100 in 2013, and yet on Aug. 13, they find themselves being one-game under .500, and within striking distance of a Wild Card spot. All this without Jose Fernandez since May.

The Marlins are clearly looking to move forward, not move Stanton. Not now. And barring a complete change of thinking, not in the offseason.

In fact, looking forward, the hope is to see the payroll increase to around $75 million in 2015, which would make room for Stanton’s salary, and others.

Locking up Stanton is definitely a high offseason priority, but it isn’t the team’s sole focus.

Adding a top of the rotation starter is high on the team’s shopping list. That could mean making a serious push for pending free agent James Shields. Fernandez isn’t expected back until around next All-Star Break, and the club wants to build a championship-caliber rotation in anticipation of his return.

What’s next for Stanton promises to be one of MLB’s biggest offseason stories. To the Marlins, however, as big a priority is to make the rotation as strong as possible for the 2015 playoff run.

Joe Frisaro

Penny seeking to become Mr. 120

CINCINNATI — In some ways, Brad Penny is having a Mr. 3000 moment.

Two years after pitching in the big leagues for the last time, Penny is making a comeback at age 36. He’s returned to the team he made his big league debut with in 2000. Penny booblehead

The Marlins have welcomed the veteran right-hander into their rotation in hopes he can provide a youthful team with an experienced boost.

In the process, Penny gets a shot at career victory No. 120. From 2000-12, he was 119-100.

The round number is providing some motivation. It’s not exactly like the movie “Mr. 3000″ starring the late Bernie Mac.

Playing the fictious character of Stan Ross in the movie released in 2004, Mac was a retired ballplayer making a comeback to reach his 3,000th hit.

If Penny were to get win No. 120 on Saturday, he also would move up a notch in Marlins’ history. Currently, he is fifth at 48-42. With a win, he would tie A.J. Burnett for fourth place.

“I’m excited,” Penny said. “It’s been 10 years since I pitched for the Marlins and I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a little weird. But I’ve been with so many teams, it’s kind of normal.”

Penny last pitched in the big leagues as a reliever with the Giants in 2012. His last starts came in 2011 with the Tigers.

“I just took last year off, gave my body a rest,” Penny said. “Everything was kind of aching. I just decided to give everything a rest.”

It crossed his mind that Saturday’s opportunity may never come.

“I’m getting a little older,” he said. “But I’m a little wiser, too.

“I’m just glad they gave me the opportunity.”

Marlins wins leaders

1. Ricky Nolasco 81-72
2. Dontrelle Willis 68-54
3. Josh Johnson 56-37
4. A.J. Burnett 49-50
5. Brad Penny 48-42

Joe Frisaro

DJ expresses thanks for support

PITTSBURGH — As he was being carted off the field on Thursday night, Marlins reliever Dan Jennings raised his right hand to signal he was going to be alright.

It was the symbolic thumbs up that prompted a loud ovation from the stunned-silent crowd at PNC Park.

After being tested at a local hospital, it appears Jennings indeed is going to be just fine.

A CT scan came back negative, and Jennings was diagnosed with a concussion after being struck on the left side of the head on a comeback liner by Jordy Mercer.

The incident brought PNC Park to complete standstill in the seventh inning of the Pirates’ 7-2 win over the Marlins.

Jennings never lost consciousness, and he responded to questions, knowing where he was and what day it was.

After being tested at the hospital, Jennings used social media to express his gratitude to the fans and all those who have reached out to him.

On his @LtDanJennings Twitter account, Jennings tweeted: “@Pirates fans showed amazing support tonight – as always @Marlins fans supporting too.”

DJ also tweeted a medical update: “The scans were negative-it seems I’m going to be ok. The support shown tonight has been unbelievable, speechless. God is amazing.”

Another tweet read: “God was definitely watching over me tonight.”

Jennings’ injury is the latest reminder of how players risk so much every time they step on the field.

Miami pitcher Brian Flynn, who also has been a teammate of Jennings in the Minor Leagues, noted that he says a quick prayer before every inning.

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who dealt with a concussion on a foul tip earlier in the season, says the time is now for baseball to explore more ways to protect pitchers, who are less than 60 feet from home plate after delivering a pitch.

“Hopefully they can find something that works that will protect pitchers,” Saltalamacchia said. “I know they’ve done a pretty good job protecting catchers. I think it’s time we need to start worrying about those guys, too.”

Joe Frisaro

Yelich shows power against lefty

PITTSBURGH — PNC Park has some special meaning to Christian Yelich.

As a rookie last year, the Miami outfielder connected on his first big league home run at the home of the Pirates. It was an opposite-field shot to left.

On Wednesday night, Yelich went deep yet again at PNC Park, blasting a no-doubt, two-run drive to right field off Jeff Locke.

It was the 22-year-old’s ninth blast of the season, and first off a left-hander. The left-handed hitting Yelich has 13 career home runs, with two off southpaws.

A year ago Yelich had his struggles while facing left-handers, batting .165 against them, compared to .362 off righties.

This season, the numbers have changed a bit.

Yelich’s splits are a little surprising. The leadoff hitter is batting .301 (28-for-93) off lefties, compared to .260 (75-for-288) vs. right-handers.

But his on-base percentage is about the same against both — .359 (LHP), .351 (RHP).

Joe Frisaro

Cosart scratched; Gregg having surgery

PITTSBURGH — Jarred Cosart paid a price for his first big league hit. The Marlins right-hander ended up tweaking his left oblique during the at-bat, and now he has been scratched from his start on Thursday at Pittsburgh.

The injury isn’t believed to be serious, and Cosart will not be headed to the disabled list. The club anticipates he will start on Tuesday against the Cardinals at Marlins Park.

Brian Flynn will start in place of Cosart on Thursday.

Miami hasn’t announced Saturday’s starter, but it is expected to be Brad Penny, who is currently at Triple-A New Orleans.

Cosart was acquired from the Astros on July 31. He made his first start for Miami on Aug. 1. Making the transition to the National League means Cosart now has to bat. In his start against the Reds, he had an infield single, which was his first big league hit. He ran hard to first base, and in the process ended up with a sore left oblique.

The Marlins rotation already is without Henderson Alvarez, who is on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Alvarez played catch on Wednesday and he is progressing nicely. The expectation is the All-Star will be reinstated on Aug. 14, the first day he is eligible to return. Miami faces Arizona that day.

Also, reliever Kevin Gregg on Thursday is scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

Joe Frisaro

Timing led to cutting ties with Turner

PITTSBURGH — Cutting loose a promising 23-year-old right-hander is never an easy decision. But where the Marlins are in the here and now, the organization felt it had no other choice but to designate Jacob Turner for assignment on Tuesday.

Still with time to make up ground in the standings, the Marlins felt an urgency to make a difficult move.

Even though it may be a long shot, the Marlins still have playoff aspirations. To stay in the race as long as possible, they are looking for those who give them their best chance.

Because Turner is out of options, the club felt the time was now to move in another direction. So Turner was designated, and lefty Brian Flynn was called up from Triple-A New Orleans.

Don’t look for Flynn to make the start on Saturday at Cincinnati. The Marlins have yet to announce who will get the nod that day, but expect it to be Brad Penny.

Of course Penny is not part of the club’s long-term future. But the veteran has pitched in playoff chases before. He’s a former All-Star, and you may recall, he won two games for the Marlins in the 2003 World Series.

Penny may not ultimately be the answer to help the Marlins reach their playoff goal this year, but he will bring a veteran presence to a young staff. Penny also may wind up logging valuable innings down the stretch, which will ease the work load of the rest of the staff.

If the Marlins were completely in rebuilding mode, like a year ago, the club absolutely would have stuck with Turner. In 2013, when the club finished up 62-100, the front office had more patience. The season was about development and seeing what players could do.

In that scenario, then you ride it out with Turner and see how he performs.

Right now, Turner’s tenure with Miami basically ended because he was out of options, and the club was out of patience. Forced to either retain him on the 25-man roster or let him loose, there was no middle ground to allow the right-hander to go down to the Minors to polish up his game.

The Marlins tried Turner in the bullpen and rotation. He struggled in both roles.

Frankly, Turner was rushed to the big leagues at age 20 by the Tigers. He was dealt to the Marlins a year later in a trade that is now even more unpopular with Marlins fans. Turner, Flynn and Rob Brantly came to Miami in 2012 for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.

Bad deal? Absolutely.

In those situations, you can do a couple of things. You can hang on and hope, or you can cut your losses, and move forward.

Miami, too, moved Turner quickly to the big leagues, speeding up his service time clock.

Not every high school talent is ready to be in the big leagues two or three years after they graduate. Turner found himself in that situation.

The lesson the Marlins have learned from pitchers like Turner is to give their other prospects more time to develop.

That’s why this season we’ve seen Andrew Heaney and Anthony DeSclafani promoted from Double-A to Triple-A. Both made their big league debuts this season, and both showed they needed more seasoning. So they are back at New Orleans.

In years past, the Marlins had a philosophy of promoting pitchers directly from Double-A to the big leagues. It worked with Dontrelle Willis and Josh Johnson. It wasn’t as successful with Scott Olsen, Chris Volstad and others.

The objective of the organization now is to stop developing at the big leagues, and focus on winning. To achieve that goal, bold moves are sometimes made along the way.

Joe Frisaro

How trade positions Marlins now and future

PITTSBURGH — Organizational depth put the Marlins in position to pull off a trade with the Astros last week that should help the big league roster for at least the next few seasons.

The downside of the deal is it weakened the system from a position player standpoint.

But that’s the nature of trades. You have to give to receive. The Marlins did yield quite a bit when they sent outfielder Jake Marisnick and third baseman Colin Moran to the Astros.

The Marlins and Astros finalized a six-player deal less than 30 seconds before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Miami also sent Minor Leaguer Francis Martes and a 2015 competitive balance Draft pick to Houston.

In return, the Marlins acquired right-hander Jarred Cosart and infielder/outfielder Enrique Hernandez, plus Minor League outfielder Austin Wates.

Ultimately what the trade did was help solidify the rotation for the short and long term.

Cosart, according to several scouts, profiles as a No. 4-caliber starter. His ceiling could be a solid No. 3. Plus, he is big league tested.

All along the Marlins said they wanted a starter with controllable years before reaching free agency. Cosart steps right into the rotation, and he provides a boost for the rest of this season.

Plus, heading in 2015, the Marlins are bracing to be without Jose Fernandez until around the All-Star Break.

Until Fernandez is ready, the organization feels better positioned with a rotation of Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, Cosart, Tom Koehler and perhaps Brad Hand or Jacob Turner.

It’s an impressive young group that will be pushed by prospects like Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Nicolino.

Hernandez also is part of the big league plans. The infielder can play second, short and third base, as well as center field. He also can hit.

Moving forward, Hernandez is an option to fill in for Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop and Casey McGehee at third.

Hernandez also could be a candidate to win the second base job in 2015.

A couple of other things to keep in mind regarding the trade.

* It solidifies McGehee has Miami’s third baseman for 2015, and perhaps beyond. McGehee is arbitration-eligible next season. But the club also is open to signing the 31-year-old to an extension.

Although Moran was the sixth overall pick in 2013, he wasn’t projected to be big league ready next year.

* By dealing Marisnick, Miami’s outfield of Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton are expected to remain together at least through 2015.

If the Marlins had been leaning towards trading Stanton, they only would have done so if they were confident Marisnick was ready to play every day in the big leagues. Obviously, Miami could seek an outfielder in any deal involving Stanton, but that is not what the organization is considering at this point.

Signing Stanton to a long-term deal remains the Marlins’ priority. That’s not a given, because the slugger will have to agree this is the place he wants to be for at least five or six more years.

Even if Stanton wants to sign year-to-year until he becomes a free agent after 2016, the Marlins appear to be in no rush to make a trade. The return the Red Sox got for Jon Lester has redefined what the market could look like for a rental.

Joe Frisaro

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