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Breakfast with Benz

Tim Benz: Pirates' Clint Hurdle should have benched Starling Marte earlier

| Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, 6:21 a.m.
Pirates center fielder Starling Marte returns to the dugout after a base-running blunder against the Cubs Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Starling Marte returns to the dugout after a base-running blunder against the Cubs Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, at PNC Park.

Clint Hurdle said he heard it from the fans.

He shouldn't have needed to hear from them for confirmation. The voice in his head should've been enough.

The Pittsburgh Pirates manager definitely should've benched Starling Marte. He just should've done it Sunday after Marte grounded out in the third inning and failed to run hard following a slip. Hurdle shouldn't have waited until the starting lineup was revealed Monday.

"I thought there could have been better effort just to finish the play," Hurdle said. "So did the fans. First time I heard the fans. He's worked his way back into good graces with the fans."

That after an 80-game suspension over a failed PED test.

Whether Joe from Blawnox or Harry from the South Side was booing in the box seats behind the Pirates dugout shouldn't have mattered.

Marte is an everyday player. Hurdle admitted the reason for the benching Monday. He acknowledged his starting center fielder's desire wasn't good enough.

"I encouraged him, effort. It's always about effort," Hurdle said.

There is no sugar-coating what happened. Marte is supposed to be a 29-year-old veteran leader. Not a petulant, self-absorbed, brooding slap. So he gets grounded like a bad kid misbehaving at home.

When a supposed leader fails to live up to the cannon of giving 100 percent on every play, it's almost worse than when an immature youngster does it.

To an extent, a manager will give veterans a little slack on matters of optics like that. The guys with more wear-and-tear on their legs might get a pass on busting up the first base line on a lost cause grounder.

But there's slack, and then there's enough rope to hang yourself. That's what Hurdle did by not benching Marte immediately after that.

Because how did Marte reward his manager's grace? Three innings later he failed to stay alive in a rundown between third base and home plate.

By that point, not only should Marte have been benched, he also should've been escorted out of the stadium. Yet he stayed on the field the rest of the game.

Hurdle's call to put off disciplining Marte until the next game lacks teeth.

Well, at least the bite it would have if he had done so immediately.

It does feel as if fan — and maybe media — consternation about Marte's demeanor on the basepaths influenced his decision.

Like maybe if this happened in May after a Penguins-Capitals playoff game, or on a Sunday up against Steelers-Browns, nothing would've come of it. Maybe Marte wouldn't have even been benched the next day.

Just enough Pirates fans are still paying attention, though, and just enough blowback occurred.

It's tough to argue tactics were involved in the decision to keep him in the lineup Sunday. Adam Frazier would've replaced Marte, in all likelihood. That's who got the call Monday in the starting lineup. Frazier has been scorching hot and won Sunday's game with a homer in the eleventh shortly after he entered the game. Meanwhile, Marte is hitting .172 since Aug. 4.

So it's not as if Hurdle can argue he felt like he was sacrificing a game by benching Marte anymore than he would have Monday.

Hurdle knows the line to walk when managing Marte with tough love as opposed to positive reinforcement better than we do. Maybe he felt that putting the hammer down Sunday would've caused Marte to check out emotionally or mentally the rest of the season.

But, to that point, we've all watched Marte long enough to ask this question: Would we be able to notice the difference?

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