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Pirates demote Marte hoping for power

| Monday, March 19, 2012

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Pirates kept their word and sent elite outfield prospect Starling Marte, their top spring performer, back to the minors.

Marte and four others -- outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and pitchers Justin Wilson, Kyle McPherson and Bryan Morris -- were optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis on Sunday to cut the camp roster to 43.

Marte, 23, batted .520 -- 13 for 25 -- with three home runs, a double and two steals. But he never has played above Class AA, and management had stated all along he would return to the minors. The team wants to see more patience -- Marte led the Eastern League with a .332 batting average, but his on-base percentage was .370 -- in large part to develop his power. He did not walk this spring.

"Obviously we love the guy," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We're really excited about the offensive upside, the chance to make an impact. He showed that when he commands his zone and hits his pitch, can hit just about anybody. That's great to see."

"There are five tools developing there," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We want to see all of them."

Huntington would not commit to bringing up Marte in 2012.

"It may be all year," he said of Marte's time in Indianapolis. "We've still got work to do. Twenty-five at-bats don't mean he's ready to make a major league team, great as those 25 at-bats were. Spring training is spring training."

Marte and Hernandez, both natural center fielders, will alternate between center and left in Indianapolis.

Wilson will start

Wilson had a realistic chance to make the Pirates' bullpen, but continued command trouble -- seven walks in 5 2/3 innings -- prompted management to assign him to Indianapolis' rotation.

"The key to Justin's future success is major league command," Huntington said. "He needs to make some delivery adjustments, and the best way is to repeat that a lot in a game."

Sorry, Charlie

Charlie Morton had a season's worth of lousy luck in the Pirates' 10-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium yesterday. He allowed five runs on seven hits over three innings, striking out two, walking one and hitting a batter.

Some of that was the result of dubious fastball command that ran his pitch count to 51, but the bulk of it was the opposition finding holes. Not much was struck with authority.

"It's hard to assess what I just did because the things I normally do to get success didn't work," Morton said. "I was mad when I was out there, but not anymore."

Morton said he felt no discomfort with his surgically repaired hip and expects to be ready for the season.

Meek 'progressing'

Reliever Evan Meek, still working to regain velocity after shoulder trouble last year, sat at 90-92 mph while setting down the Twins in order in the fourth.

"It'll come," Hurdle said of the velocity. "We don't want him out there snorting and slobbering. There's time."

Other game highlights

> > Outfielder Nate McLouth left the game after the fourth inning with soreness in his right foot caused by a foul ball in his first at-bat. The team called the move precautionary.

> > The Pirates scored 17 runs in their visit to Hammond last Thursday, but they were held to one hit -- Brandon Boggs' eighth-inning single into right-center -- in this one.

> > Brad Lincoln pitched three scoreless innings, allowing one hit, in the Pirates' 3-2 victory over the Twins in a B-game.

> > The Pirates (6-9) are off today, then face the New York Yankees on Tuesday in Tampa. Erik Bedard will start.

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