Pirates notebook: Marte returns to lineup

Pirates left fielder Starling Marte bats against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte bats against the Padres on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at PNC Park.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Travis Sawchik
| Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, 6:54 p.m.

Starling Marte returned to the top of the Pirates' lineup Tuesday.

Entering Tuesday, Marte had not recorded a plate appearance since injuring his right ring and pinky fingers on a slide attempt Aug. 18. The Pirates left fielder began taking aggressive swings only last week. And since the minor league seasons have ended, Marte returns to the lineup without the benefit of a rehab assignment.

Marte has appeared as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement since returning from the disabled list. Few players on the team possess Marte's athleticism and speed, but the question is how his bat will play down the stretch after a month-long layoff.

“I have no idea how this is going to go,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “But I know he's going to be engaged, and he's going to be competitive. We'll see how long he takes to respond, how soon he can get the timing back.”

Despite the month layoff and increased outfield depth, Hurdle indicated last week that Marte would return as an everyday player and leadoff hitter. Marte is batting .282 with 11 home runs and 36 steals this season.

“We're a much more dynamic team with him in left field and leading off,” Hurdle said. “Starling's skill set is special.”

Marte said Tuesday that the discomfort in his hand has lessened, but Hurdle said Marte likely will have to play through pain the rest of the season.

“There comes a point in time where the conversation has to end and the young man needs to go out and play and figure things out as he goes along,” Hurdle said. “This is the next test. ... Is he able to get through (the pain)? I'm looking forward to watching him get back involved.”

Taillon to pitch in October

Top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon will not be joining the Pirates for a postseason push, but the right-hander will get more work in October as the club has decided to send him to the Arizona Fall League, where he will face some of the top prospects in baseball.

The Arizona Fall League begins Oct. 8.

Taillon has thrown a 147 13 combined innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season, which is near the 150 combined innings Gerrit Cole threw across several professional levels last season. Taillon threw a 142 innings in 2012, suggesting he could handle more innings this fall. Taillon had a 5-10 record and 3.73 ERA between two levels this season. He struck out 143.

“We are looking to prepare Taillon to be a (major league starting pitcher), so that means we need to continue to build his innings workload and challenge him with the competition he faces,” Pirates assistant GM Kyle Stark said. “Arizona allows us to do both. The main reason, though, is to get him more innings.”

If Taillon is on the Cole plan, he could debut in the majors next June.

Pirates thrown a curve

San Diego pitcher Andrew Cashner can give advance scouts part of the thanks for his near-perfect game Monday against the Pirates.

“This is a team that doesn't hit curveballs well,” Cashner said of the Pirates. “I kept throwing my curveball, and it worked out.”

According to Fangraphs.com, the Pirates are the third-worst offense in baseball against curveballs. Hurdle acknowledged Tuesday that his lineup has struggled with the breaking pitch this season.

“Sometimes pitchers don't have curveballs, but for every pitcher that does it's come into play,” Hurdle said. “The one thing the curveball does is it's a low-velocity pitch, it gets you off the cutter, the fastball the slider. It slows the down the bat.

“(Cardinals starter Adam) Wainwright was very effective against us throwing the curveball early. Put that in the hitter's mind when they get in the box, now the fastball beats them.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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