The Pirates could use a lot of nights like tonight from Starling Marte during the 2013 season. The outfielder led off the game with a single, after working the count in a long at-bat. He then went on to steal second, and moved to third when the throw from the catcher went wild. One play later Marte scored on a sacrifice fly by Jose Tabata.
Marte came up again to lead off the third inning. He drew a walk, again working the count. He once again stole second, then scored on a line drive single by Pedro Alvarez.
Perhaps the best thing tonight was the plate patience. That has been the biggest knock, and perhaps the only knock, against Marte during his career. He doesn’t draw a lot of walks, with a 4.4 BB% last year in his limited time in the majors. The patience he displayed in the first two at-bats was definitely an encouraging sign.
“We’ve been seeing more of that this Spring,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Marte’s plate patience. “I actually think it’s something that’s going to evolve, that’s going to happen as he matures as a player, as an offensive player, as he gets to see more variety of pitching. We don’t want him to go up there necessarily trying to create walks, but when they’re there, him showing the ability and the patience to take them, work himself in good offensive counts. He’s very, very good within the strike zone. I think he’s getting a better awareness of that as well. Just the added reps, the added experience, the added games, they’re all going to add up for him.”
Marte has the speed and the playmaking skills that you’d want from a leadoff hitter. However, the low walk rates don’t make him a conventional leadoff guy. Throughout his time in the minors he had an OBP in the .340-.360 range, although a lot of that was driven by a high average. He could hit for a high average in the majors, but he might not be the on-base machine that you’d typically want from a leadoff guy. His other skills could make up for that. When asked about conventional leadoff hitters, Hurdle offered an interesting response.
“If you think about it, name the five best leadoff hitters in the game right now,” Hurdle asked. “It will take you some time, and then you think about how many of those guys are conventional. The game’s kind of evolved in a different way from that aspect. I think he’s got the tools to be a very dynamic leadoff hitter. And you’ve gotta love the swing. The bat, the ball’s there. It’s loud, it’s crisp, it’s from line to line. He’s showing what I think is some maturity and a slow heartbeat when he gets on base now. [He's] going to be a fun player to watch grow.”
Marte did have one mistake on the night. He recorded his second hit of the night with one out in the fifth inning — another single. After stealing in his first two opportunities, Baltimore pitcher Brian Matusz picked him off. After the game, Hurdle talked about Marte’s all-out play, and how the Pirates didn’t want him to be conservative.
“It’s much easier to pull the reigns back on a mustang, than it is to kick another kind of horse to get him to go,” Hurdle said. “This kid loves to play. And some of that we’re going to have to live with along the way. But to know that the intent, and the passion, and the energy’s there every time he gets on.”
Marte could be a key for the Pirates in 2013. They’ve got some good young bats in Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Neil Walker. Adding a “dynamic” Marte to the mix would be a huge boost to the offense, especially if that production comes ahead of those three hitters.
“We’ve got to find out what he can do,” Hurdle said. “We want him to get those opportunities to learn from them. I think he made two really good reads tonight. The one break he stole a base he might have been a tad late. But the speed makes up for it. The only way this kid’s going to get better is by getting him out there and getting involved. We’re going to take every opportunity that we can to get him as much experience while we’re here in the Spring.”
Rough Third Inning Shortens McPherson’s Night
Kyle McPherson made the start in tonight’s game, going three innings and allowing four runs on six hits. The right-hander saw most of the damage in the third inning, but was showing some nasty stuff up to that point.
McPherson struck out three in the outing, including two in the second. He caught Trayvon Robinson looking at a fastball down the middle to start the inning, and blew a fastball by Xavier Avery for strike three to end the frame. His third strikeout came in the third inning, after he put two on with a walk and a hit batter. Three straight hits brought in three runs, making the score 4-1. Pedro Alvarez saved an additional run with a heads up play, catching the runner off third base on a hard grounder, and eventually forcing him out in a 5-2-5-1 pickle.
“You saw three major league pitches at times tonight,” Clint Hurdle said. “You saw a very good fastball when it was down. The fastball was up more than he wanted, and I think that’s what probably came into play in the third inning as much as anything.”
Because of the extended third inning, McPherson cost himself a possible fourth inning. His pitch count looked good enough that he could have gone four heading into the third.
“After the third inning, getting out of there, they decided to go ahead and say ‘that was good enough for tonight and just get ready for the next one,’” McPherson said after the outing.
McDonald Gets a Compliment on His Pick-Off Move
In Thursday’s game, James McDonald picked off Desmond Jennings at first base in the first inning. The right-hander later got a compliment from Darren Ford on his pick-off move. Ford, with 332 career stolen bases in 771 minor league games, knows a bit about stealing bases and recognizing a good pick-off move.
“He’s a good base stealer, so maybe I should start using it more,” McDonald said.
The Pirates have been stressing controlling the running game more this season, after things got out of hand last year. An effective pick-off move will keep runners close, and prevent them from running at-will like the Pirates saw in 2012.
“As a team, as a whole, we’re working on the little things,” McDonald said. “The running game, hold the runner, pick-off moves. This is the time to figure out ‘what’s my strength in keeping guys limited to stealing’. It might be ‘I’ve got a quick pick-off move, and need to start doing that more’. Or maybe it’s ‘Hold, hold, hold’. All of us as a group have been trying to stop that guy at first base when he’s taking off at-will. That will give our catchers a better chance to throw those guys out.”
Karstens Throws Live Batting Practice
Jeff Karstens threw a live batting practice today at Pirate City, the second live BP he’s thrown in a week. The right-hander used all of his pitches in the outing. He threw one inning with a screen in front of him, and another without the screen, throwing a simulated inning.
“It felt a lot better than last time, so that’s definitely encouraging,” Karstens said. “I’ll just go from there and see what tomorrow brings.”
He will throw a side session on Monday. Hurdle said that he could pitch in a game after that.