Pirates Notebook: Marlins will be huge challenge

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Up next for the Pirates is an opponent with a payroll $15 million smaller than theirs, but with a record that is the envy of Major League Baseball.

The Florida Marlins are 11-1 after their their seventh consecutive victory yesterday -- 7-4 in Washington -- and are off to the best record in the majors, best start in franchise history and best start by any team since the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals leaped to identical starts in 2003.

And the Marlins have done it all with a payroll of $36.8 million that is lowest -- by a wide margin -- in the sport.

"That's what we've been saying for a long time now, that it's not all about payroll," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said yesterday. "There are many examples of teams that have spent a lot of money and have not performed, and there are many or more examples of teams that have not spent a lot of many and have succeeded."

He praised Florida's ability to evaluate and develop talent internally, as well as the ability to trade elite players for prime young talent before those established players reach their free-agency years.

"They have done a terrific job of evaluating talent in terms of the draft, in the first round and lower rounds, too. And, from their perspective in particular, they've also done a great job of evaluating the players they get when they move veterans, which, given their revenue and stadium situation, they've had to do over an extended period of time. Even earlier than most clubs."

He mentioned Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett and others.

"They've gotten great talent back every time."

The Marlins, perenially among the weakest attendance draws in the majors, finally have financing set for a baseball-only facility in Miami, due in 2012.

The key on the baseball end this year has been a dynamic offense led by star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Jeremy Hermida and Jorge Cantu. But the youngest rotation in the game -- Andrew Miller, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson and Chris Volstad have an average age of just 24.6 years old -- also has been instrumental. So has a no-name bullpen that has put up 23 consecutive scoreless innings before allowing a run yesterday.

"They've got a good club, and they're awfully hot," Pirates manager John Russell said. "We're going to have to do some good things to beat them."

Alvarez making drama

Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates' first-round draft pick, has had his struggles in batting .250 for Class A Lynchburg in the opening two weeks of his professional career, but he also is showing an early flair for the dramatic.

Thursday, he hit a three-run walkoff home run. And yesterday, in what proved to be an 8-7, 10-inning loss at Wilmington, he hit a tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning, deep to right field.

It was Alvarez's third home run in 36 at-bats.

Buried treasure

• Shortstop Jack Wilson returned yesterday after missing three of four games to a sprained finger on his left hand.

• Wilson was charged with a throwing error in the sixth inning, his first error in 51 games. His personal-best streak had been 52.

Freddy Sanchez's third-inning double was his seventh. He now owns or shares the National League lead in that category, as well as triples (two) and extra-base hits (10).

• Reliever Donnie Veal, the Rule 5 draft pick, made just his second appearance. Entering in the eighth with the Pirates down, 10-0, he allowed a run on a hit, four walks and a wild pitch over two innings.



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