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Pirates outfielder Marte staying aggressive offensively this season

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 10:33 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte scores against the Phillies Sunday, March 16, 2014, at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte steals second base against the Phillies on Sunday, March 16, 2014, at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte sits in the dugout between innings during a game against the Phillies on Sunday, March 16, 2014, at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Pirates left fielder Starling Marte was asked this week whether he is faster than fellow outfielder Andrew McCutchen and future teammate Gregory Polanco, a trio that has a chance to be among the speediest, most athletic outfields in the game.

“You know how fast I am,” a confident Marte said.

Maybe Marte is right. Maybe such an exercise is pointless. Anyone who has watched him perform knows the 25-year-old is a blur in left field and on the bases.

But while Marte stole a team-best 41 bases last season despite missing three weeks with a sprained wrist, he also was caught stealing a National League-high 15 times. Despite top-of-the-line speed, Marte's instincts on the bases could improve, and Marte believes they will. Entering his second full season, he has his eyes on a greater stolen base total.

“I want to be more aggressive this year,” Marte said. “That's me. That's my game.”

He is confident he will steal more bases in 2014 because he has more experience. Marte said improved instincts will give him a quicker and more efficient first step.

“Sometimes we get bad jumps. Sometimes (it's) knowing the pitchers. … Sometimes it's the count,” he said. “That's where experience comes in.”

Of course, to steal second base, Marte has to reach first base, and it's how he often reaches first base that has the Pirates concerned.

Marte's .342 on-base percentage last season was inflated by being hit by 24 pitches. He already has been hit by a team-high three pitches this spring.

The Pirates understand the hit by pitches lift the free-swinging Marte's on-base percentage, important for a leadoff hitter. But they also want him to better protect himself at the plate. The Pirates staff has worked with him on better avoiding pitches, or at least moving his hands and wrists out of danger's way.

“I do think it comes with experience,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “There is an art on getting hit by pitches. I coached for one guy that was the best in Don Baylor. That was part of the deal. There were at-bats where if it got tight, he just took it and went on down to first.

“(Hitting coach Jeff) Branson has had some conversations with how to protect himself better, to turn away from pitches and not to turn into pitches. I think there has been a little bit of an adjustment in the box. It can be a skill for some guys. Some guys never learn to do. I think there are some guys that (get hit) frequently enough they find a better approach in how to deal with it, to stay healthier and minimize injury, to properly take it off a larger muscle rather than bones and hinges.”

Marte said he consciously is trying to keep his hands and wrists out of harm's way. Marte does not believe pitchers are intentionally hitting him.

“They don't want me to be on the bases,” he said. “They know I can steal second base.”

Marte also knows he can't steal second base, can't use his elite speed, if he's on the disabled list.

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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