Starling Marte has responded to being bumped down in the lineup from leadoff to hitting fifth -- even sixth and seventh -- to the tune of a 13-for-38 stretch before a game Saturday night against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park.
Marte was removed from Saturday's game with tightness in his back after going 0 for 2.
The Pirates made the change May 1, and his batting average has increased from .229 to .259, his on-base percentage has risen to .329 from .308.
The evolution of the decision came from his struggles batting leadoff, but also from manager Clint Hurdle's gut.
"Past experience. From managers that I've played for doing it to leadoff hitters, from guys who I've had in the minor leagues who maybe had similar challenges," said Hurdle. "No. 1, it just changes the load. No. 2, he can go watch four, five guys hit before he has to hit. No. 3, it's a change of scenery. We'll see where he can take it."
When the move was first made it appeared Marte would be given time to work his way back to the top of the lineup.
But the Pirates have an interesting quandary now.
Marte, who bats right-handed, is generally batting fifth between the left-handed-hitting Pedro Alvarez (fourth) and Ike Davis (sixth).
"If we can get, I think ample coverage in the leadoff spot by the men we choose in that spot I do think he presents a nice dynamic for us hitting between the two left-handers," said Hurdle. "If you look at the rest of the roster, how he's been able to show up, hold ground there, and add to the middle of the order has been fun to watch."
Marte said it has been helpful to get an extra look at the pitcher before he's up.
"To see the guy batting in front of me, I think has been a help for me," said Marte. "I'm ready for whatever the pitch is. ... You know I don't do anything else different, though. It's all the same."
McCutchen gets night off
Andrew McCutchen was not in the lineup Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park, and was given the night off to rest, according to a team spokesperson. The lineup was not posted in the time the clubhouse was open to the media before the start of the game.
General manager Neal Huntington released an injury report before the game that did not include any information on McCutchen. McCutchen, Hurdle said, is day to day with “left foot soreness.”
He noted that Russell Martin (hamstring) has begun “baseball-specific activities” and his next steps will be determined based on how those activities go. He also reported that Stolmy Pimentel (right shoulder) is feeling better and is scheduled to begin a return to pitch progression this week.
Wandy a go
Wandy Rodriguez (knee) is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start Thursday in Milwaukee.
"Making progress, feeling better and we will go ahead and announce he'll start the third game," said Hurdle.
Rodriguez, according to Hurdle, said he wants to throw one more bullpen session before the start.
Rodriguez went on the 15-day disabled list April 21 and had his knee drained.
"As of right now that's all it's turned out to be. Feel good about that," said Hurdle. "I think I'm going to have to have mine drained again, but I think Wandy's in much better shape."
Closer Jason Grilli also is making progress and approaching the time for some rehabilitation appearances.
"He's starting to feel aggressive," said Hurdle.
"Cut the ball loose a little bit, he's heading in the right direction."
Hurdle said they will confer with Grilli to make the determination about potential rehabilitation appearances in the minor leagues before he returns.
Whether or not he immediately will return to the closer role when he rejoins the active roster is less clear.
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez
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