Pirates notebook: Martin plays huge role in Hurdle's key move

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CHICAGO -- In the ninth inning Monday night, catcher Russell Martin had an idea.

Starling Marte had just hammered a two-out home run to break a 1-1 tie. Closer Jason Grilli scrambled to the bullpen mound, but time was running short.

"I've seen him do it before, but this wasn't one time that I wanted to say, OK, fire, ready, go in," manager Clint Hurdle said. "If [Neil] Walker has a two-pitch at-bat, we're pushing the envelope."

Hurdle also had to decide what to do with Tony Watson, who was warming up for the second time. If he didn't enter the game, he would be out for the one Tuesday night, too.

Hurdle discussed the situation, thinking out loud. Martin presented a solution: Have left-handed Watson face left-handed batter Anthony Rizzo to start the ninth. Then, bring Grilli in for the final two outs.

"My perspective is, if you're going to use your closer, you probably like your closer to start the inning," Hurdle said. "His wherewithal was, hey, he's ready. He can do it."

Rizzo grounded out. Grilli entered and allowed a walk and a single, but closed the game.

"You know what, you've got some manager in you," Hurdle said of Martin. "That's a pretty good thought."

Another nod to bullpen

Charlie Morton threw 89 pitches through seven scoreless innings Monday, but Hurdle removed him before the eighth in an effort to revive the back end of his bullpen.

"I wanted to put the wheels back on the bullpen the way we had them earlier, when we were the most efficient team in baseball pitching out of the bullpen," Hurdle said. "I wanted to give that an opportunity to take place last night. Charlie had another inning in him, I don't think there was any doubt."

Mark Melancon entered and allowed the tying run, the third consecutive outing in which he has allowed a run.

"They're catching a little bit more of the ball, the ball's finding grass," Hurdle said. "We've talked about some things. I think we've got an opportunity to make some minor adjustments."

Morneau provides defense

The Pirates might not have hung on to win without three good defensive plays from first baseman Justin Morneau. He scooped a low throw on Rizzo's groundout and made a diving stop on Nate Schierholtz's ground ball that became a force play. He also relayed Andrew McCutchen's throw to Martin in time to tag Schierholtz at the plate for the final out.

Morneau said he received text messages and calls about the play from other players, former teammates and opponents.

"It was awesome to see, to be a part of the playoffs again," Morneau said. "We got a lot of people pulling for us."

Despite getting on base at a .354 clip, Morneau has not yet produced at the plate for the Pirates, posting a .299 slugging percentage and three extra-base hits before the game Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs.

"We've had a couple conversations, we've kept it simple," Hurdle said. "He's impacted our ballclub, but he wants to impact it on the offensive side. I said there's probably a better chance of that happening sooner than later if you stop trying to impact it on the offensive side."


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.


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