Friday, July 10, 2015

Marte more important now than later

Thursday, July 9, 2015, 10:45 p.m.
Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte singles off Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Sean O'Sullivan during the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, June 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

This ballpark was built for series such as their showdown with St. Louis, but there was something familiar missing from the Pirates at PNC Park on Thursday night.

A star left fielder.

How's it always seem to go? You don't know what you've got till it's gone.

With due respect to Sean Rodriguez, he isn't the Pirate Pittsburghers wanted to watch playing the position that has produced Pittsburgh's primo players for about three decades.

Barry Bonds.

Brian Giles.

Jason Bay.

That's an All-Star group, and suggesting Starling Marte might one day join it may sell short his talent. He's got game that even Bonds lacked. At the risk of waxing hyperbolic, Marte possess the power of a tank, the speed of jets and a throwing arm that fires like a cannon.

Skinny Barry, not that any Pittsburgher needs reminded, didn't always get his guy on throws home.

Marte most often gets his guy. And this season he's getting awful close to doing what Bonds did for the Pirates of the early 1990s, which is to say doing almost everything for a pennant contender. Marte leads the Pirates in home runs (13) and ranks second in RBIs (48), stolen bases (16) and OPS (.788).

It is all of that the Pirates played without when opening a four-game series against St. Louis that people somehow resisted comparing to the Reykjavik Summit — though, to be fair, manager Clint Hurdle didn't share everything he had heard about this showdown.

“I think it's fun,” Hurdle said of the September-in-July vibe that was not dampened by more of the rain that won't go away this summer.

“But what are we going to do — try harder because it's the Cardinals?”

No, of course not.

But the Pirates are at the crossroads regarding Marte, a point Hurdle conceded while providing an update on the “left side discomfort” that has sidelined him since Sunday. That side wrapped and taped, Marte took indoor batting practice, perhaps his first swings dating to the emergence of symptoms, Hurdle said.
And what are these symptoms? Well, there's discomfort, and ...

Yeah, that's the only official word, though the Cardinals wouldn't have needed an employee to hack into the Pirates' database to determine that Marte's oblique needs mending.

After a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals, Hurdle said Marte was improving.

Now, I'm not a doctor, but my orders are for the Pirates to promptly place Marte on the 15-day disabled list. Give him the rest of this week, next week's All-Star break, and whatever he needs after that to get healthy.

Because these Cardinals, already with an embarrassment of wins and a comfortable division lead considering all of their injuries, are going to be hard enough to catch if Marte is healthy for the final weeks of July and into August, September and October.

If Marte doesn't properly heal — and think back to James Neal's slow-starting final season with the Penguins for a gauge of how long oblique injuries can linger — the Pirates have absolutely no chance to knock the Cardinals from their familiar perch atop the National League Central.

“He's got everything,” Gregory Polanco said. “If he hits a ground ball to the hole, he races to first and beats a throw, and that gives us energy.

“Everything he does gives us energy. Other than McCutchen, Marte gives us the most energy.”

Marte has done what left fielders have made habit of doing in Pittsburgh since well before the late Sophie Masloff called for a new ballpark.

And the right-field wall at PNC Park was built 21 feet high for a reason. It's waiting on the same Pirate everybody has for about a year.

Your best friend is down, Gregory Polanco.

It's time to pick him up.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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