It’s tough for a team in the thick of a pennant race to bank on a pitcher coming off surgery. The Florida Marlins are pinning their hopes on two such hurlers.
A day after getting an outstanding performance from Josh Johnson, the Marlins send Anibal Sanchez to the mound when they conclude a three-game series with the reeling Atlanta Braves on Thursday night.
Florida (68-65), trying to remain in contention for the top spot in the NL East, put Johnson and Sanchez (2-2, 3.99 ERA) back in the rotation in July. It was risky, with Johnson coming off elbow surgery and Sanchez returning after shoulder surgery.
But Johnson and Sanchez have only bolstered the Marlins’ playoff hopes.
On Wednesday night, Johnson threw a four-hitter for the first complete game of his career as Florida won 4-1 over Atlanta (58-75). Johnson, who returned July 10 for his first outing since undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery last August, had never pitched more than 7 2-3 innings.
Florida will now turn to Sanchez, who has pitched well in five starts. He won 10 games and threw a no-hitter as a rookie in 2006, then missed most of last season because of a shoulder injury that required surgery in June 2007.
In his last start, the right-hander gave up four runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings as Florida beat Arizona 5-4 on Friday night.
Sanchez is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in two career starts versus the Braves. He’ll be trying to help the Marlins win consecutive games for the first time since July 30-31, when Johnson and Sanchez both earned wins.
Sanchez will be matched up with Charlie Morton (3-8, 6.39), who is coming off his worst start of the season, allowing four runs and five hits while walking a season-high five in 1 1-3 innings in an 18-3 loss to St. Louis on Friday night.
The rookie right-hander has lost three straight starts, posting a 10.24 ERA and a .390 opponents batting average.
Morton labored through 5 2-3 innings in his first start against the Marlins, giving up four runs, two hits and four walks in a 4-0 loss on July 22.
Atlanta has gotten terrible pitching in recent weeks, posting a 7.03 ERA en route to losing 13 of its last 16.
The Braves, resigned to missing the postseason for the third straight year, traded outfielder Mark Kotsay to Boston for a minor leaguer on Wednesday. To fill Kotsay’s spot, Atlanta recalled outfielder Josh Anderson from Triple-A Richmond.
Anderson, acquired in an offseason trade that sent reliever Oscar Villarreal to Houston, was hitting .315 with 41 stolen bases at Richmond. He’ll get a shot in a Braves lineup that has scored three runs or less in 11 of its last 16 contests.
Florida, meanwhile, is batting .296 with four home runs and 13 doubles while averaging 6.0 runs over its last three games.
“Our offense is going to take care of itself,” Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla said.