Andrew McCutchen Batting
Andrew McCutchen has missed only 10 games since the start of 2011. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

What a two months it has been for Starling Marte. The Pirates left fielder has evolved from a potential-packed-but-raw leadoff hitter to a possible All-Star.

Marte was set to have a day off before the team’s scheduled off-day Monday, but Andrew McCutchen is a late scratch due to right knee soreness, so Marte will instead play center field.

Let’s look at what Marte has done this season: He is making contact on more pitches, allowing him to reduce his strikeout rate. Even though his walk rate is still low, he has been hitting the ball harder to increase his average. Expect a little offensive regression, given Marte’s high .392 BABIP, but he can still beat out plenty of infield hits with his top-level speed.

And no, he’s not Mike Trout. He doesn’t yet have the gap power or plate discipline. Each player through 42 games of their second MLB season:

  • Trout in 2012 — .341/.401/.541, 6 homers, 16 stolen bases, 2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio
  • Marte in 2013 — .312/.380/.474, 5 homers, 10 stolen bases, 4.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio

With Marte in center, it’s a swap in to left field for Travis Snider. He has played left field before with the Toronto Blue Jays, and although PNC Park’s expansive territory in left presents a new challenge, Snider says he will just play a little further back toward the wall.

Cutch Was Coming Alive

Andrew McCutchen takes a seat on the bench for just the second time this season, and first since April 28. No word yet on if he is available as a pinch-hitter.

His production has been down in the early goings, marked by an eight-game slide in late April with no extra-base hits. But the last three nights have seen McCutchen go 7-for-14 with four extra-base hits. Hurdle wouldn’t predict if the strong few days indicate fans will see a blast of power, but he noted that it’s not like his center fielder is doing anything differently.

“He’s very process-motivated. He’s going to stay with his routine,” Hurdle said. “He’ll tell you there have been more pitches away.”

Bonus Round!

  • Rehab outings for pitchers with shoulder injuries: Jeff Karstens will pitch May 23 somewhere, and James McDonald will pitch May 27 in Altoona.
  • Infielder Chase d’Arnaud is scheduled to play seven innings Sunday and seven innings Monday for the Double-A Altoona Curve on his rehab assignment.
  • The Pirates rotation is “set in pencil” for the Cubs series: Wandy Rodriguez on Tuesday, Francisco Liriano on Wednesday, Jeanmar Gomez on Thursday. “We still could adjust,” Hurdle said, but the rotation should be finalized soon.
  • Every reliever except Brian Morris (33 pitches Saturday night) is available Sunday.

Lineups

Houston Astros (12-31, 16 games back in AL West)

  1. CF Brandon Barnes (.322)
  2. 2B Jose Altuve (.342)
  3. LF J.D. Martinez (.247)
  4. 1B Chris Carter (.226, 9 homers)
  5. C Carlos Corporan (.313)
  6. RF Jimmy Paredes (.194)
  7. 3B Matt Dominguez (.236)
  8. SS Marwin Gonzalez (.248)
  9. RHP Lucas Harrell (5.11 ERA, 29 K, 29 BB in 49.1 IP)

Pittsburgh Pirates (25-18, 2.5 games back in NL Central)

  1. CF Starling Marte (.312)
  2. LF Travis Snider (.272)
  3. RF Garrett Jones (.288)
  4. 1B Gaby Sanchez (.250)
  5. 2B Neil Walker (.243)
  6. 3B Pedro Alvarez (.197, 7 homers)
  7. C Michael McKenry (.224)
  8. SS Clint Barmes (.229)
  9. LHP Jeff Locke (3.15 ERA, 28 K, 20 BB in 45.2 IP)
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