Pirates Notebook: Marte Impressive in Debut; Jones Hitting Lefties
Manager Clint Hurdle always gives the same message to rookies when they first arrive to the big leagues — respect everything and fear nothing.
The message must have resonated with the 23-year-old Startling Marte in his Major League debut on Thursday in Houston. Because that’s exactly what he did.
The outfielder stepped to the plate against the Houston Astros’ lefty Dallas Keuchel for his very first Major League at-bat. He didn’t look nervous. He looked confident. And it showed.
Marte took the very first pitch seen at the big league level for a home run, crushed over the left center field wall. Keuchel left an 86 MPH cutter over the plate and Marte jumped all over it for his first hit, run, RBI and home run in his professional career.
He’s in rare company, too.
Marte became just the second Pirates player to homer on the first pitch of his career. The other was Walter Mueller on May 7, 1922. Marte is only the 14th National League player and 28th overall to homer on their first pitch in their very first at-bat in the Majors.
Marte battled through eight pitches in his second at-bat, and flew out to deep center field for his first out. In his third, Marte hit a sharp single between short and third. After advancing to third base in the inning, Marte was caught attempting to steal home plate. The Astros’ tried to pick off Andrew McCutchen at first base and Marte broke for home and was tagged out at the plate. The outfielder flew out to left in his fourth at-bat on the night going 2-for-4 in his first professional game.
Jones is Hitting Lefties
Since the season began, Hurdle said he would pick and choose when Garrett Jones would face a left-handed starter. Jones in his career has struggled against southpaws, but has recently been finding success against them.
“He’s worked hard,” Hurdle said. “It’s not so much that he’s changed his approach against a left-hander, it’s just the consistent approach each time he steps into the box with staying tall and holding his position in the box, getting his hands and barrel out in front of him. There’s times where you’ll see that front knee collapse and he goes down, loses his stance. Those are the times he’s staying away from. There’s been some left-handers that I think based on what they bring, that he has the ability to still change the game with one swing.”
Jones took former Bucco Paul Maholm deep Tuesday — his first home run off a lefty since a walkoff shot off Arthur Rhodes on August 16, 2011. Jones picked up No. 2 on the season off a southpaw on Thursday after going deep in the first inning for a two-run shot. It marked his 15th long ball of the season.
The outfielder is 7-for-25 this season against lefties, and is hitting .302 over his last 18 games with the Pirates.
“Garrett, as we have all seen, there’s times when he’s been able to do damage and be able to strike the left-handers very effective,” Hurdle said. “We’re just trying to find a good balance for him to get back to that place where it’s more consistency and not one dimensional where he’s facing right-handers all the time.”
Burnett Continues Solid Season
When A.J. Burnett takes the bump for the Pirates, the team is 15-3 this season. The trend continued after the veteran right-hander tossed 7.1 solid innings against the Houston Astros.
Burnett cruised over his first seven innings only allowing three base runners during that span — two singles and a walk. He retired his first seven batters until a one out single in the third. After taking the mound in the eighth inning, the Astros broke up the shutout.
Burnett gave up his first run — and just third hit of the game to start the bottom of the frame. Johnson connected for a leadoff homer to left field, which caused the Pirates bullpen to stir. After retiring his next batter, Burnett gave up his second dinger of the inning before Hurdle pulled him from the game. Brad Lincoln allowed a walk, then retired his next two straight to end the eighth inning.
Overall, Burnett allowed two runs on four hits over 7.1 innings. He walked one and struck out five while throwing 103 pitches, 67 for strikes.
Burnett lowered his season ERA to 3.52. He has worked at least seven innings in eight of his 18 starts this season.