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Pirates notebook: Several players pondering winter ball

| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 5:18 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Starling Marte backs off from an inside pitch against the Rockies on Aug. 4, 2013 at PNC Park.

ST. LOUIS — General manager Neal Huntington and his lieutenants have begun plotting which players they'll want to see play winter ball. The club can only suggest, not force, any player on the major league roster to play or not to play in a winter league.

“We still strongly believe in winter ball,” Huntington said. “We've got some guys who've finished their minor league seasons who we'll look to place (there).”

Pitcher Jeff Karstens already has said he wants to play in the Dominican Republic after missing the entire season due to shoulder problems. Karstens hopes to bolster his stock as he heads back into free agency.

Starling Marte has not played since Aug. 19 due to a bruise and a sprained ligament in his left hand. Hurdle pointed out that, despite missing time to various injuries, Marte already has made 536 plate appearances this season.

Marte, a native of Santo Domingo, D.R., was dazzling in the Dominican Winter League last year. Although Marte doesn't need to make up for lost at-bats, he still is considering playing in the DWL.

“I'm not sure yet what I'll do,” Marte said. “If I do play, it probably will be only for a month or so this time.”

The Pirates would be OK with that approach.

“Some guys still have that part of them that wants to play for at least a period of time,” Hurdle said. “Not the whole time, but they want to ‘give back' (to their homeland) and honor that. They use that as a springboard into spring training. Marte is still young enough to do that.”

One candidate to get some make-up time in winter ball is reliever Jared Hughes, who has spent time on the disabled list and at Triple-A Indianapolis this year.

“I'm always game for winter ball,” said Hughes, who played in the DWL in 2009 after sitting out much of that summer with elbow problems. “It depends on what the Pirates want me to do and how it goes from here. If I'm with the team, still pitching deep into October in the playoffs, then I probably wouldn't need to make up innings.”

Lone Star series

Until this season, interleague games were played in the first half of the season, mostly in June. That changed this year, after Houston's switch to the American League put 15 teams in each league.

That's why the Pirates find themselves making a September trek to Texas for a series against the Rangers

“It's not a major issue; it's just different,” Hurdle said. “It's a different challenge. It's a team you don't see (often) and you add in extra players, and now it's more than a pop quiz. It's like you're cramming for an exam.”

Hurdle was the Rangers' hitting coach in 2010, when they captured the AL pennant and Josh Hamilton won the MVP award. Hamilton has since joined the Los Angeles Angels, and the Rangers this year are in second place, fighting for the AL West title.

“I'm looking forward to getting back to Texas,” Hurdle said.

Around the horn

Hurdle indicated he'll use Garrett Jones as the designated hitter Monday against the Rangers. ... Low-A West Virginia was eliminated Saturday from the playoffs, which wiped out a chance for another rehab start for Wandy Rodriguez (forearm tightness, arthritis). On Sunday morning, Hurdle said management still was weighing its options, which include activating Rodriguez from the disabled list and using him solely out of the bullpen.

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

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