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Pirates notebook: Tabata gets first crack in Marte absence

| Saturday, June 21, 2014, 7:18 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte stands on third base after driving in two runs runs with a triple during the first inning against the Orioles Wednesday, May 21, 2014, at PNC Park.

CHICAGO — Starling Marte's two-day departure from the team gives outfielders Jose Tabata and Travis Snider a chance to impress Pirates management with a roster move looming early next week.

Marte was given permission to leave the team Saturday morning to attend to a family matter in the Dominican Republic. The Pirates will play shorthanded Saturday and Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.

Marte is expected to rejoin the team Monday afternoon in Tampa before the start of a three-game set against the Rays.

Second baseman Neil Walker (appendectomy) is on track to come off the disabled list Tuesday. That will force the Pirates to make a corresponding move — either Tabata, Snider or utility infielder Clint Barmes will drop off the active roster.

Tabata was scheduled to start in left field Saturday against left-handed pitcher Travis Wood. Tabata went in batting .455 (10 for 22) over his previous 13 games, and he's hitting .344 (22 for 64) with runners on base this season.

“We've got a very capable Plan B, who just turned into Plan A,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

When the Pirates acquired Tabata in 2008, some scouts predicted he could blossom into the kind of power hitter who would produce 25 homers a year. It hasn't worked out that way, though.

Over five seasons in the majors, Tabata has hit a total of 17 home runs. His career numbers also include a .276 average and a .719 OPS.

“I don't think he's tapped his potential power-wise,” Hurdle said. “I think he's still growing. I wouldn't go 25 home runs, but there is more power there. Slowly and quietly, his swing has honed this year and he's been productive in the role he's been asked to perform.”

Tabata, 25, is in the midst of a $15.5 million contract that runs through 2016 with team options for 2017-19. Snider, 26, will make $1.2 million this season and has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining.

Hurdle said part of Tabata's maturation process was coming to terms with his role as a bench player.

“He's got two eyes that work pretty well to know that Marte and (Gregory) Polanco are here,” Hurdle said. “He's got a chance to be the fourth outfielder. That's the way I've told both him and Snider to look at it. Somebody might be the fifth, I don't know. But plan on being the fourth.”

Bullpen, Volquez on rebound

Hurdle hopes the bullpen finally will be rested and back to full strength for the start of the series in Tampa.

Stolmy Pimentel threw 78 pitches after Edinson Volquez was bombed Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds. Thursday, the Pirates used five relievers in a 12-inning win.

Jason Grilli and Justin Wilson were not available Saturday. Volquez was available the bullpen Saturday in case of an emergency.

Volquez lasted only 2 13 innings Wednesday and gave up eight runs on six hits. He's scheduled to start Monday against the Rays.

“We're not going to know if he's progressed until he gets the ball,” Hurdle said. “He's done a video review, and we've shared our thoughts. It's about rhythm and pace. He needs to stay engaged. The more time he spends off the mound, I think it doesn't work to his best interests.

“He's got to stay task-specific: get on the mound, get the ball, get the sign and go. For whatever reason, in the last outing, there was more down time — thinking, wondering — than in the previous three or four. We've tried to help him refocus on a few staples he really needs to nail each time.”

Almost famous

When he got a hit in his 10th consecutive game Friday, Polanco became the first player with a double-digit hitting streak to begin his big league career since Minnesota Twins infielder Glenn Williams in 2005.

We'll have to wait to see if Polanco lives up to his predicted greatness. But, whatever happened to Williams?

A native of Australia, Williams made his Twins debut June 7, 2005, and got a hit in each of the 13 games in which he played that month. He was sent back to the minors and never appeared in another major league game.

According to Elias, Williams career .425 batting average (17 for 40) is “the highest in major league history — if you use a minimum of, well, 30 at-bats!”

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

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