After finishing the 2014 season as one of the best hitters in baseball, Starling Marte is off to a slow start in 2015. He is striking out in nearly half of his plate appearances, and the result is that the Pirates are giving him a night off, with Corey Hart getting the start against the Tigers.
“Marte, the way he’s been swinging the bat, he’s out and Hart’s in,” Hurdle said on the decision.
Hurdle said that Marte is being challenged right now, and that sitting him down for a break and a “work day” is a way to help him get back on track. This kind of slow start isn’t uncommon for Marte. Last year he started the season with a .612 OPS in the month of April, along with a 31.6% strikeout rate. He quickly picked up the pace, dropping the strikeout rate, while improving the production.
The hope is that he can get back to that second half performance, when he hit for a .975 OPS with just an 18% strikeout rate. Perhaps the day off will get him back on track.
As for Hart, he’s going up against a right-hander tonight, but Hurdle said that he isn’t a platoon guy. That’s supported by his numbers, with a .790 OPS in his career against right-handers. The matchup tonight might also play into this.
“He’s a low ball hitter. It might play into this guy being a guy who works low in the zone as well,” Hurdle said of opposing pitcher Shane Greene, who had a 50% ground ball rate last year with the Yankees.
Morton Making Progress
Clint Hurdle said that Charlie Morton is making progress in his rehab assignment in extended Spring Training, noting that he pitched in a sim game recently.
“We’re just working on things. We just tried to re-map the schedule out today, and Ray and I were going to visit after our BP. The health is where it’s at. He’s trying to make sure the biggest focus point is staying connected over the back side. That has been his biggest point, creating balance over his backside and repeating his delivery. So we’re mapping out where we get him out of extended Spring to compete. We haven’t decided yet.”
Morton was healthy this spring, but his off-season hip surgery threw off his mechanics, and led to some poor results in Spring Training.
Strikeouts and Home Runs
As I wrote last night, the Pirates have had a lot of strikeouts and a lot of home runs early in the season. They look like a team that has had an aggressive approach early. This might not be intentional, as Hurdle said they aren’t going out looking to hit homers.
“I don’t think our guys and trying to hit home runs by any means. I do think we’ve gotten outside ourselves a little bit, trying to do more than we need to be doing at the plate.”
It’s still a small sample size that could change with more games, but right now it appears the Pirates are doing something that needs to be corrected, especially since this trend of high strikeouts and high home run counts will eventually lead to just having high strikeouts.
As some of you noted yesterday, Mark Melancon’s velocity has been down in the early part of the season. Hurdle didn’t want to use the word “concerned” about that velocity, and basically side-stepped the question about the velocity drop.
“We’re going to watch and we’re going to communicate. Concern is not a word that I’m going to use. Disappointed is not a word I’m going to use. I don’t think we need to delve deep into emotions. I think you just need to evaluate and have conversations. I think that’s the best way to get things done in the clubhouse.”