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A new look for Marlins Park’s season debut: a 1st-place…

MIAMI – Marlins Park will have a new look for its 2020 season debut Friday, thanks to cozier dimensions and a switch to artificial turf.

Also, there will be a first-place team in the home dugout.

And that Marlins’ roster looks a lot different than it did when they were last in Miami, before departing for a season-opening three-game trip. That was more than three weeks ago.

“You feel like you´ve got a quick trip,” manager Don Mattingly said. “You pack hardly nothing, and the next thing you know, a month later, you´ve got to pay rent again.”

The Marlins’ 23-day road odessey was necessitated by a coronavirus outbreak that infected at least 18 of their players during the opening weekend in Philadelphia. Their season was suspended for a week and the schedule scrambled, including the postponement of eight games at Marlins Park.

With the revised schedule, they’ve played two “home” games on the road. Three weeks into MLB’s 60-game season, Miami will finally play in Miami on Friday against the Atlanta Braves.

“We talked going into the the season about how it was going to be different,” Mattingly said, “but I didn´t envision this. We´ve been tested early.”

And they’ve passed.

Largely because of the outbreak, the Marlins have made 58 roster moves since the season began July 24. Only 13 players on the opening day roster remain active. Yet Miami is 8-4 for a one-game lead over second-place Atlanta in the NL East.

It’s heady stuff for a franchise that before this season had never been in first place after June 30. Now, thanks to a season shortened by the pandemic, the Marlins are in the thick of the playoff race with a shot at their first postseason berth since 2003.

“Every win feels like it´s worth three,” closer Brandon Kintzler said.

That was especially true in the Marlins’ most recent game before an off day Thursday. They blew an 8-0 lead but became the first National League team ever to allow seven homers and still win, beating the Buffalo Blue Jays 14-11.

“We´ll take them any way we can get them — 14-11 or 1-0, it doesn´t matter,” said Josh A. Smith, who pitched a scoreless 10th inning for the save.

Smith is one of 18 players added when the outbreak hit. The newcomers, mostly journeymen and second-tier prospects, have tried to bond with the holdover players in accelerated fashion, all while everyone observes social distancing and wears a masks.

“You see a lot of guys you played with and against along the way,” Smith said. “Now we´re teammates, and we just roll with it.”

Many of the reinforcements are placeholders until the infected Marlins are cleared to return, which could start to happen soon. Miami is especially thin in pitching, with three starters and eight members of the opening-day bullpen on the injured list.

“We did a nice job of surviving to this point,” Mattingly said.

Now his makeshift roster can take a bow at Marlins Park, although the stands will be even more empty than usual.

There are other changes, with the pitcher-friendly park slightly less so after an offseason reconfiguration. The distances to the fence have been shortened from 407 to 400 feet in center field and from 399 to 387 in right-center. The Marlins also installed artificial turf because grass struggled to grow under the retractable roof.

But then everything about this 2020 season seems different. Just ask the first-place Miami Marlins.

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