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03/17/12 5:30 PM ET

Choate nearing return to game action

JUPITER, Fla. -- A key piece to the Marlins' bullpen is getting closer to game action.

Randy Choate, who has been resting a fatigued right lat, threw off the mound on Saturday morning.

The session went well, and the veteran left-hander is scheduled to be back on the mound again on Monday.

Choate has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game.

If all goes well on Monday, the 36-year-old will face hitters in live batting practice on Wednesday, which is exactly two weeks before Opening Day.

The lost time, Choate says, should not prevent him from being ready when the season begins on April 4 against the Cardinals at Marlins Park.

"I don't think it will be an issue," Choate said. "I don't think it will take as long as [other relievers]. I've got one guy to get ready for, so I think I'll be in shape."

As a lefty specialist, Choate's role pretty much is to get left-handed batters out, which often means he will face one or two batters per outing.

Choate and Mike Dunn are expected to be the two late-inning left-handed options for Miami.

The team could carry a third left-hander in the bullpen, which may be Wade LeBlanc in a long-relief role.

In 2011, Choate was one of the Marlins' top relievers. He appeared in 54 games and had a 1.82 ERA in 24 2/3 innings.

Choate missed the final six weeks of the season after he was placed on the disabled list on Aug. 18 with left elbow inflammation. Choate said his elbow is fine, and the ailment that has slowed him in Spring Training thus far is on his right side.

In the first few days of camp, he was shut down before his second live bullpen session. Choate felt some cramping on his right side while taking some swings during batting practice.

"Arm-wise, I'm fine," he said. "We're just being cautious, getting a little extra time."

By next weekend, Choate could get back in Grapefruit League games. He is confident he will have enough time to be ready for the regular season.

"I'll throw a live BP [on Wednesday]," he said. "So I'd have more than a week and a half to get ready. I don't see it at an issue."

Nolasco enjoying gradual spring improvement

JUPITER, Fla. -- Ricky Nolasco is gradually building up arm strength. His secondary pitches are also showing signs of getting sharper.

It's all part of the process of getting regular-season ready.

Saturday was another step in the right direction for the Marlins' expected No. 3 starter.

Nolasco gave up one run -- a homer to Danny Valencia -- in five innings while throwing 73 pitches against the Twins at Roger Dean Stadium.

His fastball was clocked mostly in the 88-90 mph range, and he was able to get a couple of strikeouts with breaking pitches.

"The main thing is the arm is getting better every time out," Nolasco said. "I'm able to let some go here and there. I'm feeling loose. My arm strength is building up in between with the long toss and stuff."

When at his best, Nolasco keeps hitters off-stride with his breaking pitches. He was able to string together back-to-back strikeouts in the third inning with curveballs.

"Obviously, my breaking balls aren't nearly where they should be yet," he said. "I haven't been able to throw the curveball for a strike. But that's what Spring Training is for. I felt I threw a couple of good ones when I needed to with two strikes for strikeouts."

In his second Grapefruit League start, the right-hander was able to stretch out to more than 70 pitches. He should be ready to reach about 80 in his next outing.

And working five innings was another benchmark as he gets season-ready.

"I felt good," he said. "I didn't feel like I was getting tired at all."

What was uncharacteristic was walking the leadoff hitter in each of the first three innings.

"Obviously, I don't want to walk the leadoff guy three times," Nolasco said. "But it was good to battle out there today."

Marlins look to mend, blend soon

JUPITER, Fla. -- Continuity will start kicking in with about 10 exhibition games remaining.

Due to various ailments, the Marlins have yet to play with their projected Opening Day lineup together.

Giancarlo Stanton has missed time with inflammation in his left knee, and Logan Morrison is resting inflammation in his right knee.

Manager Ozzie Guillen is hopeful to have all the regulars in the lineup and ready to go deep into games around March 24. It remains questionable if Morrison and Stanton will be ready to go by then.

"Later on in Spring Training, maybe 10 games left until the season, it's all in," Guillen said. "Everybody has to play every day -- seven or eight innings. I've got to give those guys the opportunity to play about 10 games together."

Health, of course, will dictate that. And it may work out where one or two projected starters are still getting treatment.

First baseman Gaby Sanchez says there is still time for players to mend and then blend together.

"It's going to definitely be fun once we get out there and we're all playing together," Sanchez said. "But it's Spring Training. So right now, we're getting in there, getting our work done."

On Friday against the Cardinals, the Marlins did have their top of the order together. Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and Hanley Ramirez were in the top three spots.

But on Saturday, Bonifacio was part of the team that traveled to Viera, Fla., to face the Nationals. Reyes and Ramirez played against the Twins at Roger Dean Stadium.

"We have, at least, at one point in time, played together," Sanchez said. "I don't think it's too big of a deal. I think once we get going and we start playing, then of course, we're going to have that. But I don't think it's a big deal in Spring Training to have the whole team playing in Spring Training together."

Marlins pitchers continue to impress Ozzie

VIERA, Fla. -- Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen loves the way his pitchers have been performing this spring. And that satisfaction continued Saturday, even though none of the arms who made the split-squad trip to play the Nationals are assured a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Tom Koehler, Steve Cishek, Alex Sanabia, Robert Ray and Sandy Rosario combined to limit a Washington starting lineup that featured Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper to six hits in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie after nine innings.

The only run Marlins pitching allowed at Space Coast Stadium came in the first inning without Washington getting the ball out of the infield. Koehler, who spent last season at Triple-A New Orleans, loaded the bases on a pair of walks and an infield single. Espinosa scored on a groundout to first.

Miami had a staff ERA of 2.93 going into play Sunday.

"Everybody's throwing the ball good, very well," Guillen said. "We continue to pitch very good in Spring Training. Our pitching staff has been very solid. I'm excited about that. I thought everybody did a tremendous job on the mound."

Marlins' backup outfield race too early to call

VIERA, Fla. -- Bryan Petersen started in left field and batted fifth for the Marlins on Sunday against the Nationals. Scott Cousins was in right, batting sixth.

That was interesting, since the perception, at least, is that they're competing for the fourth outfield spot on the roster.

Each went hitless in four at-bats and struck out twice, but manager Ozzie Guillen said nothing should be read into that.

"Right now, it's too early to talk about how this ballclub is going to shape up," he said. "There are a lot of guys out there. There's [Austin] Kearns, [Aaron] Rowand, [Chris] Coghlan. There's a lot of guys competing for a spot. You can't make any decisions this quick. They have more at-bats to go. Whatever we need the most, that's what I'm going to take."

Hayes in more comfortable spot this spring

JUPITER, Fla. -- Spring Training has been different is a positive way for Brett Hayes.

In the past, the 28-year-old headed into camp pretty much battling for a roster spot that didn't exist.

Now, Hayes is firmly entrenched as the Marlins' backup catcher to John Buck.

"Every year, it seems like I've lowered my jersey number by a baker's dozen since my first Spring Training," said Hayes, who wears No. 9. "This is kind of the first time that I've been in position to get ready for the season."

Before, he was aware it was a matter of time until he was sent down to the Minor Leagues.

Hayes was in the starting lineup on Saturday, catching Ricky Nolasco against the Twins at Roger Dean Stadium.

In previous years, he was used to making all the long Spring Training road trips and playing in the later innings.

This past week, he's been starting pretty much every other day.

"I'm used to being in every game, and traveling on every road trip and playing every day," he said.

Now, he is on a schedule, being groomed to be ready for when the regular season gets under way on April 4 against the Cardinals at Marlins Park.

"It's been weird, but a good weird," Hayes said. "I'm able to learn these pitchers and get kind of a test run on how they throw and tendencies. It's been a good different feeling."

Hayes did make the Opening Day roster in 2011, but he entered camp not sure of his status.

He appeared in 64 games a year ago, batting .231 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in 144 at-bats.

Even though Hayes is expected to break camp with the team, he is continuing to prepare himself like in the past.

"I'm going to be me. It's worked in the past," he said. "I'm confident it will continue to work. Be aggressive, and when needed, play hard. Just be that guy in a supporting role to Buck, because Buck is obviously that guy. I know what my role is. I'm just ready for whenever my name is called."

Worth noting

• The only Marlins run against the Nationals in Viera, Fla., scored on a sixth-inning home run by catcher John Buck. He also doubled. "He's a good hitter, [but] he's going to bat seventh or eighth in our lineup this year," said manager Ozzie Guillen. "He's a good guy to have down there."

• The split-squad Marlins chose not to use the designated hitter on Saturday in Viera, while the home Nationals had a DH.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.