Starling Marte’s HR helps lift Pirates over Nationals
Not unlike former teammate Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte respectfully disagrees with manager Clint Hurdle’s tact of sitting a struggling regular for a multiple-day stretch in an effort to clear his head.
Also not unlike McCutchen of two years ago, Marte’s slump appears to be busted by the technique.
Marte extended his hitting streak to seven games with a home run that accounted for all the offense in the Pirates’ 2-0 victory against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday afternoon.
“We talked about some things, but I just think his approach, the work he did – he was able to iron some things out in his swing,” Hurdle said of Marte’s resurgence since a July 1-3 absence from the Pirates lineup. “Just fresh eyes – hit the reset button, flush all the stuff in the background that’s been going on against lefties; you’ve got a new start.”
With Jordy Mercer aboard in the third inning, Marte turned on a Gio Gonzalez changeup and deposited it 414 feet away into the shrubbery past and above the center-field wall.
“That ball,” Hurdle said, “was pounded.”
“A lot of things have kind of reignited for him since he’s been back in the lineup after his time out,” Hurdle added. “It’s fun to watch.”
Equally fun for Hurdle to witness was a bounce back from Trevor Williams five days after he couldn’t make it out of the third inning in a 17-5 Pirates loss. On Wednesday, Williams combined with four relievers on a five-hitter, the Pirates’ 10th shutout this season. That’s second most in the majors.
But despite a relatively clean line (no runs, four hits), Williams (7-7) wasn’t totally sharp: he walked three, had just one 1-2-3 inning and ran his pitch count to 81 before being pinch hit for in the bottom of the fifth.
“I understand there’s going to be bad starts along the way, but it’s the things in between the starts that aren’t on the field, that aren’t in front of cameras that are getting better throughout the process,” Williams said. “It was good today to get some zeroes, and it was good for us to get the win today.”
Hurdle pinch hit for Williams, in part, to preserve the positive vibes for his starter but also as a nod to the confidence he’s growing in his bullpen. Richard Rodriguez, Edgar Santana, Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez each added a scoreless inning of relief, facing just one more than the minimum and allowing one walk and one single in a four-inning span. Vazquez struck out all three he faced in the ninth to earn his 20th save, his 10th consecutive conversion.
Marte also walked, meaning he has reached base safely 14 times over the past seven games, with a .461 average, .517 on-base percentage and .731 slugging percentage (1.248 OPS) since Hurdle on July 4 bumped him to the No. 2 spot in the order from No. 3, where he had hit in 61 games this season.
Though these have been Marte’s first games batting second this season, over the course of his career he has started the second-most games in the No. 2 spot of any other position in the lineup.
“I became very comfortable there,” Marte said through a translator. “I feel a lot better.”
Similar to how much better he has felt since his three down days during the Pirates’ roadtrip earlier this month to California. Before that mini-benching, Marte was in a 22-for-110 slump (.200) with two home runs over a 29-game stretch following a short stint on the disabled list in late May. Marte said he did machine work, particularly focusing on approach to offspeed pitches – and that he’s seeing the fruits of those labors.
“I personally don’t think that’s there’s much benefit to the days off. I love to play, and I love to be out there on the field, getting my reps, seeing just live game situations,” Marte said. “But at the same time, I do know that there’s some pros and some benefits to having those days off, and I’ve been a witness of it”
David Freese and Mercer each had two hits for the Pirates, who begin a five-game series with first-place Milwaukee on Thursday.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.