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Marlins-Pirates Preview

AP - Sports

Jose Fernandez is making his case for the NL Rookie of the Year award. The Miami Marlins certainly think he's deserving of the honor.

The NL Central-leading Pittsburgh Pirates are getting another look at the 21-year-old phenom.

After breaking his own team record his last time out, Fernandez looks to continue his dazzling stretch with another dominant performance against the Pirates on Thursday.

Fernandez (8-5, 2.54 ERA) only had Class-A experience prior to this season, but he's quickly become the Marlins' ace by leading the team in wins, ERA, strikeouts (138) and innings (127 2-3).

He's also tops among rookies in ERA, strikeouts and opponents' batting average (.190), placing him among the frontrunners to be named rookie of the year. The only potential obstacle could be the innings limit Miami (43-69) is expected to impose on him.

Still, manager Mike Redmond thinks Fernandez deserves to become the fourth Marlin to earn the honor.

"He should be; I'm biased," Redmond told the team's official website. "I've watched this kid over the course of the year. I can't imagine there being a better rookie than him."

Fernandez has performed more like one of the best pitchers in baseball of late. He's 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA and has struck out 39 in 29 innings over his last four starts.

The right-hander, named NL rookie of the month for July, has entered the record books twice during the stretch.

Fernandez set a team rookie record with 14 strikeouts while allowing three hits in eight innings of a 10-0 win over Cleveland on Friday. He surpassed his previous record of 13 set five days earlier against the Pirates (69-44), as he yielded two runs in eight innings of a 3-2 victory.

"I'm just trying to make good pitches," Fernandez said. "I'm not trying to strike out people. I'm not going out there saying, 'I've got to strike out 20.' I'm not thinking about that."

Fernandez will probably be thinking of ending the Marlins' four-game slide, which continued with Wednesday's 4-2 loss in the middle game of this series.

He may not be expecting much help from the lineup, which has scored eight runs during the skid and had seven hits - six singles - Wednesday.

"We've had some good at-bats but we're not stringing them together," Redmond said. "We're piecing together one run here or one run there. Believe me, it's very frustrating. I know our guys are frustrated. You've got to keep plugging along and hopefully have that day where we string a bunch of hits together."

Andrew McCutchen is surely doing that for the Pirates, registering five straight multihit games while driving in six runs and scoring five times. The star center fielder homered for one of his two hits Wednesday as Pittsburgh's home winning streak over Miami reached five games.

McCutchen, 10 for 16 over the past five games overall, popped out as a pinch-hitter in his only at-bat against Fernandez on July 28.

The Pirates are again scheduled to counter Fernandez with their own heralded youngster in Gerrit Cole (5-5, 3.69), the top pick in the 2011 draft.

The 22-year-old right-hander performed admirably opposite Fernandez last month, allowing three runs and four hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings.

He labored through his last outing Friday, throwing a season-high 102 pitches while giving up three runs and three hits with six strikeouts in 5 1-3 innings of a 4-2 loss to Colorado.

Cole has lost five of his last six starts with a 3.68 ERA, and he can't be entirely to blame since he's been backed by one or two runs in each of the defeats.

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