Pirates' Marte suspended 80 games
ST. LOUIS — When management moved Starling Marte from left to center field at the start of this season, he essentially became the Pirates' captain.
It was Marte who took charge on fly balls in the gap, with the authority to call off former MVP Andrew McCutchen. Manager Clint Hurdle expected to see more power from Marte's bat, which could help alleviate Jung Ho Kang's absence from the lineup.
Marte — a two-time Gold Glove winner and an All-Star last season — is a difference-maker in the field, at the plate and on the basepaths. His upbeat, outgoing personality is the heartbeat of the clubhouse.
On Tuesday, all of that was stripped away when Marte was suspended for 80 games after he tested positive for Nandrolone, a performance-enhancing anabolic steroid.
The suspension is without pay and is effective immediately. Marte is not eligible to participate in the postseason.
The penalty is steep for Marte, who is not eligible to return until July 18. It also is a potentially crippling blow to the Pirates' hopes of winning the NL Central or even earning a wild-card playoff berth.
"We're going to miss him, for sure, a lot," outfielder Gregory Polanco said.
Polanco, a close friend who trains with Marte in their native Dominican Republic during the winter, said he was "heartbroken" when he heard about the suspension.
"I was in shock," Polanco said. "I was like, 'I don't believe you, bro.' Then I went to Twitter and social media and saw the stuff."
The Pirates brought up first baseman/outfielder Jose Osuna from Triple-A Indianapolis. Top prospect Austin Meadows, who is batting .162 at Indy, was not considered for a promotion.
"We're encouraged by where Austin Meadows will be at some point over the course of the summer," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's not ready right now."
Polanco will remain the left fielder. McCutchen, who moved to right field at the start of this season, will reclaim his role as the everyday center fielder.
"I'm going to be in center, so all right," McCutchen said. "Next man up. I'm ready to go."
Manager Clint Hurdle said Adam Frazier, Osuna, John Jaso and Josh Harrison will split time in the outfield. Hurdle added that first baseman Josh Bell, a natural right fielder, is not an outfield option at this point.
"He's on the back side of the conversation for now," Hurdle said.
Marte has known for at least several days that he flunked a drug test administered during spring training. There also was a second test to confirm the results of the first. General manager Neal Huntington indicated Marte exhausted the appeal process.
"When you make a mistake, you've got to pay for it," McCutchen said. "He has our support. Guys make mistakes, but the last thing I need to be doing is distancing myself from him. I'm just trying to be a good friend and let him know I'm here for him."
While he is on the restricted list, Marte is allowed to work out at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., and the team's academy in the Dominican Republic. He also can participate in extended spring training.
For the last 15 days of his suspension, Marte will be sent on a rehab assignment with a minor league affiliate.
Marte met privately with teammates in the clubhouse before Tuesday night's game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"We had everyone in here," pitcher Gerrit Cole said. "He addressed us. That's big. For him to be facing us, that was big for us. We'll try to reserve judgement, because he's our brother."
Marte left Busch Stadium without speaking to reporters, although he did issue a statement via an email from the Players' Association.
"I have been informed that I have tested positive in one of the tests that are regularly done in my job," Marte said. "In this very difficult moment, I apologize to my family, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my teammates, my fans and baseball in general. Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much.
"With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much. I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me. God bless you."
Huntington said management wants "to be respectful of Starling's statement that he … is not sure how this substance got into his body." Huntington added that Marte apologized to the GM and Hurdle.
Nandrolone is used medically to treat anemia caused by kidney problems. Effects include muscle growth and increased red blood cell production, but it also may cause tumors or bloody cysts in the liver and spleen.
Over six seasons in the majors, Marte, 28, has a .288 batting average and a .789 OPS. This year, he is batting .241 with a .659 OPS, two home runs and stolen two bases.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.