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PIT@WSH: Morton solid through 6 2/3 to earn the win

The Marlins have a National League-low 39 wins, but lately, they have been pitching like they're much better than that. The Pirates, second in the NL with 60 wins, have been throwing the ball well all season.

Pittsburgh's pitching staff boasted the best team ERA (3.09) and opponents batting average (.226) in baseball entering Friday, while the Marlins ranked ninth (3.19) and eighth (.241) in those categories this month. Miami starting pitchers have allowed three runs or fewer in 30 of their last 34 outings, as well.

Charlie Morton will take the ball for the Pirates against Tom Koehler on Saturday, both trying to build upon the success their clubs have had off the mound.

Morton started his season on June 13 because of rehab for Tommy John surgery, and he's looking to build his endurance as the year goes on. After pitching only 18 innings in his first four starts (although one was cut to two innings because of rain), Morton has thrown six, seven and 6 2/3 innings in his three most recent outings.

A sinkerball pitcher, Morton has relied heavily on his two-seam fastball and has posted career highs in groundball percentage (62.5) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.45). The 29-year-old has walked just two batters in his last two starts.

"That's the way I've been pitching, especially since 2011, relying on a two-seam fastball ... when I go out, I pitch to contact, use my sinker and get guys to hit the ball on the ground," Morton said.

Koehler got his first start on May 12, and is back in the rotation after Ricky Nolasco was traded to the Dodgers. Koehler has settled down since allowing nine runs and eight hits to the Cardinals on June 15, posting a 2.74 ERA and 2.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in four starts. He's started 11 games this season.

Monday night's outing in Colorado was a defining one for Koehler, he said. The 27-year-old allowed one run over seven innings in a 3-1 win over the Rockies.

"We had a really good gameplan going into it," Koehler said. "It's about getting ahead and executing pitches. When you do that, usually, you are going to be fine."

Pirates: Mercer extends hitting streak
• Jordy Mercer extended his hitting streak to 11 games, a career high, with a single in the second inning on Friday. The Pirates shortstop is 15-for-43 during the streak -- which began on July 10 -- with four doubles and five RBIs.

The Pirates shuffled Mercer between Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis earlier this season, but the 26-year-old is now getting the bulk of the work at shortstop. Entering Friday, he had a .276/.330/.407 slash line in 60 games in 2013.

• The Pirates will give right fielder Jose Tabata a few days off from the field, and manager Clint Hurdle is hopeful the 24-year-old will be able to throw by the end of the weekend.

Tabata was hit by a fastball in the right forearm Wednesday, and while he pinch-hit Friday, he's still having trouble throwing. He grounded out to end the Pirates' 2-0 loss to the Marlins.

"I thought he made a pretty good stride [Thursday], getting enough flexibility back and enough strength back to swing the bat," Hurdle said. "He took some aggressive swings early."

Marlins: Ruggiano feeling under the weather
• Marlins outfielder Justin Ruggiano didn't play Friday night while battling a cold. He didn't take batting practice either.

The 31-year-old has a .201/.280/.367 slash line with 12 homers, 32 RBIs and 12 stolen bases this season.

• Jake Marisnick got his first big league hit Friday night. The Marlins' No. 2 prospect was 0-for-12 in three games, and he went 1-for-4 Friday.

Worth noting
• Marlins starters have gone at least six innings and allowed two runs or fewer in each of their last six games.

• Gaby Sanchez, who played 391 games over five seasons for the Marlins, went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts in his first game against his former team since being traded to Pittsburgh last July. He also attended the University of Miami.

• Starling Marte celebrated the one-year anniversary of his Major League debut on Friday. He went 1-for-4.

• The Pirates were shut out Friday night, the first time they were blanked since Matt Cain and the Giants did it on June 13.

• Catcher Russell Martin tweaked his knee in the seventh inning Friday night and was pulled in a double switch. Hurdle said he doesn't know if Martin will be available Saturday.

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