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Pirates notebook: Andrew McCutchen to keep CF job; Starling Marte says he made 'a mistake'

| Sunday, July 2, 2017, 12:24 p.m.

Andrew McCutchen will remain the everyday center fielder even after Starling Marte rejoins the Pirates on July 18 after serving his suspension.

Manager Clint Hurdle revealed the decision Sunday, a day after he told McCutchen about it during a closed-door meeting.

On April 18, Marte was suspended 80 games by MLB for using steroids. On Sunday, he began a 15-day minor league rehab assignment with High-A Bradenton.

“Marte is going to play left field and maybe (play) a game or two in center,” in the minors, Hurdle said. “Marte will come back (to the Pirates) as a left fielder.”

Hurdle was asked if the move was made out of respect to McCutchen, who has enjoyed a renaissance at the plate and in the field during Marte's absence.

“That's just where (Marte) needs to fit in,” Hurdle said.

Last winter, Hurdle revamped the outfield alignment by moving Marte to center field and McCutchen to right. McCutchen reclaimed center when Marte was suspended.

“We tried one thing, and it didn't work,” McCutchen said. “With everything that went on, it made it a little tougher to be able to do that. We have to go back to the drawing board, and now we're back to where we were in the past.”

General manager Neal Huntington said McCutchen's defensive stats have improved over last season, when management forced him to play shallow in center.

“His metrics are better this year,” Huntington said. “Part of that … is we've pushed him back a little bit to play to his strengths and to his confidence, playing gap to gap.”

After scuffling offensively in April and May, McCutchen batted .411 with six homers and a National League-leading 1.193 OPS in June.

“Like I said a long time ago, I knew I was going to be better,” McCutchen said. “I expected to be better. And now I'm better. It's not a surprise for me. I just show up every day and get my work in. I don't think about anything else outside of where I hit in the order, where I play in the outfield. I'm just here and ready to play.”

Marte's rehab plans

Before his first game with Bradenton, Marte spoke with media at LECOM Park. The Pirates provided an audio recording.

Marte said his suspension is the result of “a mistake that I made,” but did not get into specifics.

“There's always something that can help, to move forward, always trying to be better,” Marte said through a translator. “But it's a mistake. I made that mistake. Now, I just want to move forward and help my team.”

Later in the interview, Marte denied knowingly taking steroids and said the positive test result was “a surprise” to him.

“It's not that anybody gave me anything,” Marte said. “It's something that I bought that might have induced this test positive. I was not aware that anything was in it.”

Marte said he was told by MLB two weeks before the season began that he tested positive for Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. That might account for his slow start — Marte batted .241 in 13 games — before his suspension was announced.

“When you have issues and when you're thinking about something, it does impact the way your mind stays focused,” Marte said. “I'm not going to say 100 percent that my performance was impacted by that, but, at the time, I was worried. I had all of these things in the back of my mind.”

Marte has played in several extended spring training games in addition to working out twice daily at Pirate City.

“Conditioning-wise, he should be in a good spot,” Huntington said. “Baseball movement- and activity-wise, he should be in a good spot. It's now about speed of game.”

Management wants Marte to play as many games as possible with Triple-A Indianapolis, starting sometime this week.

“I anticipate him playing nine innings, full games, by the back half of next week,” Hurdle said.

Cervelli on mend

Francisco Cervelli, who is on the disabled list recovering from a concussion, continues to do early work in the field. He has done some drills at shortstop, tutored by infield coach Joey Cora.

Cervelli will be back at catcher when he comes off the DL but might eventually be used at other positions. Cervelli has sustained at least eight head injuries while catching.

Although Huntington said changing roles is “not a conversation we're having at this time,” Hurdle indicated it could be mulled in the future.

“He wants to ignite (off the DL) from behind the plate,” Hurdle said. “The next conversation can be, ‘How can we look at some other options?' ”

There remains no timetable for when Cervelli will be activated.

“We've told Francisco his return needs to be when he is healthy, confident and comfortable and not a day before that,” Huntington said.

Dominican prospect signs

On the first day of the two-week international signing period, the Pirates came to terms with outfielder Juan Pie, 16, of the Dominican Republic. Pie got a $500,000 signing bonus.

A left-handed batter, Pie (6-foot-2, 170 pounds) has been rated by evaluators as having average speed and an average arm.

“We love the bat,” Huntington said. “There is a frame for growth and additional strength, but, primarily, we liked the bat attributes.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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