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Pirates' Marte clears his mind

| Friday, April 18, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- When Pirates reliever Damaso Marte takes the mound in the late innings, his mind is a complete blank.

And that's just the way he likes it.

"I have to come in every day and I have to be able to concentrate," Marte said. "I don't think about being happy. I just think about if I am mentally ready to pitch, because I don't think it's good if I'm thinking too much."

His approach may sound a little unorthodox, but the 33-year-old left-hander makes it work. His numbers are a bit skewed -- his 8.53 earned run average is second-worst on the team ahead of Rule 5 pickup Evan Meek's 12.00 -- but all of the damage was done in his first two outings, in which he gave up four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.

Marte will enter the Pirates' series today in Chicago with some confidence. He had a three-strikeout performance in the eighth inning of the Pirates' 8-1 loss Wednesday to the Los Angeles Dodgers. That lowered his ERA from 10.13.

How he has rebounded shows the type of veteran savvy the organization needs if it is to develop consistency in its young pitching staff.

"The guys are watching him pitch. He's been around for a while, and he's going to have his off moments as well," Pirates manager John Russell said. "It's how they rebound from those (outings) that some of the younger guys can look at and watch and realize that one outing doesn't create a season. One outing doesn't create a month. It's one outing."

In Marte's case, it was two outings, but they came so early in the season that he has plenty of time to get his ERA back to a respectable level. Last season, he was 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA in 65 appearances and allowed only 12 earned runs in 451/3 innings.

Not bad for a guy who takes his head out of the game every time he toes the rubber.

"Thinking takes away from your trust, and if thinking makes you defensive, then it's too much," Pirates pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. "A lot of guys say that if they start thinking too much, they get defensive and start pushing the ball and aiming the ball and don't throw it, and it takes away from their ability. There's other guys that have to, but the majority of them, pitching is more throwing than pitching."

Another way in which it helps Marte is that he doesn't have to overthink his approach. By taking reasoning out of the equation, he is more apt to rely on feel instead of a computer printout with a hitter's tendencies running through his head.

"If you don't think too much about the hitters, then you can be ready for every day," Marte said. "If you're thinking that, tomorrow I have to pitch and have to pitch fastballs or sliders, they can gauge you, and so you just can't think about anything. You just have to go and pitch."

Since those first two outings, Marte has more resembled the dominant left-hander the team is accustomed to seeing. In 42/3 innings over his past six appearances, Marte has allowed two hits, walked one and struck out 10.

His best outing came in Florida in his first appearance after the opening series with the Atlanta Braves. He faced five batters, struck out four and did not allow a baserunner.

"The way he goes about his work is a good thing for our young pitchers to see," Russell said. "He's a competitor that's a veteran presence that can pitch multiple innings, and that's a great asset in your bullpen."

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