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PIT@MIA: Alvarez holds Bucs to two runs over seven

For all that's different between the Mets and Marlins -- young, exciting Miami is in the thick of things near the top of the National League East, offensively challenged New York less and less so every week -- they do have at least one common desire: more reliable starting pitching.

Both teams' next shot comes Friday night, when righties Daisuke Matsuzaka and Henderson Alvarez square off at Marlins Park. Miami will look to even the four-game weekend set after the Mets took the opener, 1-0, on Thursday night.

Finding consistent starting pitching has been an issue for the Marlins in recent weeks. In the series with the Cubs this week, each starter surrendered a crucial home run with at least one runner on base, and Miami ended up dropping two of three in that series.

With Jose Fernandez out for the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, Miami is looking for the rest of the rotation to pick up the slack.

Alvarez has the talent to perform as an ace. But the 24-year-old isn't putting that kind of pressure on himself.

"I don't look at it like I'm the ace," Alvarez said. "We're all good pitchers on this staff. I just concentrate on doing my best out there and doing my part for the team."

Alvarez has enjoyed success throughout his career against the Mets, posting a 3-1 record with a 2.62 ERA in five starts. He's also been especially sharp in the month since Fernandez went under the knife -- posting an 0.81 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while allowing as many as two earned runs just once in five starts.

At Marlins Park this season, Alvarez has thrown three shutouts -- including one against the Mets on May 6 -- and he is 3-1 with a 1.62 ERA at home.

Matsuzaka hasn't been as sharp of late, but that's not entirely his fault. A severe upset stomach limited him to one inning Sunday against the Padres. He also tossed one scoreless inning of relief against the Cardinals on Tuesday.

Matsuzaka has split time between the bullpen and rotation since joining the Major League team in mid-April. In four starts, he owns a 3.63 ERA and 1.21 WHIP while limiting opposing batters to a .172 average and .324 on-base percentage.

Mets: First-rounder Conforto agrees to terms
The biggest news for the Mets on Thursday might not have even been on the field. MLB.com's Jim Callis reported that the Mets' first-round pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, outfielder Michael Conforto, agreed to terms. He is set to receive a $2,970,800 signing bonus.

Conforto is fresh off a junior season at Oregon State University in which he hit .345 with a .504 on-base percentage and a .547 slugging mark. He is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given annually to the top amateur baseball player in the country.

The organization has not announced the deal, and Conforto took to Twitter on Thursday afternoon to say he has not signed. But those are likely just formalities.

Marlins: Struggling to get on a roll
It's been a homestand of ups and downs for the Marlins, who are looking to gain some consistency.

"Were trying to get hot and put a string of wins together," manager Mike Redmond said. "We've battled back in some games and come up short. We've scored runs in spurts and come up short, and played some extra-inning games and not been able to win those. We're right there."

The constant in each of the last four games is the starter has allowed a home run. Andrew Heaney was the latest, yielding a first-inning shot to David Wright on Thursday night.

"For whatever reason, our starting pitching, we've given up some big innings. Some big runs in big innings that kind of taken us out of some games, as well," Redmond said. "We just have to get on the other side of those. These guys are competing and battling and doing all the things they need to do. It's a matter of putting it together. When we can do that, hopefully we can get hot and get on a roll."

Worth noting
• With a 1-0 win Thursday, the Mets won back-to-back games for the first time since June 1-2.

• Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts Thursday night in his return from the disabled list. It was his first hit since May 24, with an 0-for-13 stretch preceding his 2 1/2 weeks on the DL.

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