MIAMI (AP) -The final 50 games of the season will be the toughest for the Florida Marlins.
The rotation has been ravaged by injury. The defense is dismal. Fan support is approaching an all-time low. And the front office has begun to pare payroll yet again.
A year ago, the Marlins were staging an improbable surge into NL wild-card contention. Now, the best they do is pledge to keep trying.
``Everyone is saying we're out of it, but you know what? We're going to go out there and play hard,'' outfielder Cody Ross said. ``We can still make a push at it, or try to spoil it for other teams. We're going to play like we're right there in it.''
The Marlins began the week at 52-60, 11 1/2 games behind the first place New York Mets in the NL East, and one-half game ahead of last-place Washington. General manager Larry Beinfest appeared to concede the season last week by waiving right-hander Byung-Hung Kim, who went 5-3 since joining the team in May.
The move saved the budget-conscious Marlins $800,000 in salary for rest of the season, but it was a costly loss for a rotation already depleted. Beinfest didn't offer an explanation for the decision, and players tried to shrug off the message it sent.
``We talked about it as a club,'' catcher Matt Treanor said. ``This isn't a time to give up. Nobody wants to get that virus of losing in the clubhouse, because once you accept losing, that's a downward spin.''
The Marlins won twice last weekend to finish 3-3 on their homestand, but several crowds of less than 5,000 gave the ballpark a funereal atmosphere.
Florida starts a six-game trip at Philadelphia on Tuesday with rookie right-hander Rick VandenHurk (3-2, 6.75 ERA) scheduled to take the mound. He has been pressed into major-league duty to fill one of the vacancies created by injuries to second-year starters Josh Johnson (elbow), Anibal Sanchez (shoulder) and Ricky Nolasco (elbow). The trio, which combined to win 33 games last year, is 3-6 this season.
The only starting pitchers to stay healthy all season, Dontrelle Willis and Scott Olsen, have struggled. Willis is 0-8 in his past 12 starts, and Olsen has a 5.43 ERA and a growing reputation as an incorrigible hothead.
After confrontations last season with two teammates and former manager Joe Girardi, Olsen was suspended last month for two games for scuffling with teammate Sergio Mitre. Then he allegedly fought police officers who stopped him for drunken driving and had to be shocked with a Taser.
Pitching was supposed to be the Marlins' strength. When the starting staff arrived for spring training, Olsen said all five pitchers had the potential to win 16 games.
Instead, a patchwork rotation has been the team's downfall.
``Just when you think you've got something going, something else happens,'' pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. ``The starters have been so inconsistent, because we haven't had a regular rotation. But what are you going to do? Nobody feels sorry for you.''
Kim's departure likely means dipping into the minor leagues again for reinforcements to help Florida limp to the finish. It also likely means even more innings for an overworked bullpen.
``We're going through some tough times,'' Kranitz said. ``A lot of the bullpen guys have never pitched this much in their lives.''
Problematic pitching has been even more galling because the Marlins are on pace to set franchise records for runs and home runs. Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera began the week ranked first and third in the NL in batting, and Dan Uggla and Josh Willingham have a shot at 100 RBIs.
But the Marlins give up too many runs, in part because they rank next-to-last in the NL in defense. Their baserunning has been just as bad, and their luck is lousy, especially when it comes to keeping pitchers healthy.
``The whole year we have had so many elements you can't control,'' Willingham said. ``When a lot of players you thought you were going to be able to count on are hurt, it's hard to overcome. And when you don't win, it stinks.''
The final 50 games may be especially pungent.

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