PITTSBURGH — When Pirates outfielder Starling Marte returns to the starting lineup, he’ll do so as a left fielder.
Marte will begin his 15-day rehab assignment in Bradenton Sunday as he works to return from an 80-game suspension for performance enhancing drug use.
For most of his Major League career, Marte has played left field. The Pirates moved him to center field, Andrew McCutchen to right and Gregory Polanco to left this off-season in part to maximize the defensive abilities of Marte, who finished second in the National League in outfield assists in 2016.
But that experiment failed on several levels. First, Marte’s suspension created a hole in the middle of the outfield that prompted McCutchen’s return to that spot. Then, Polanco’s continued struggles in adjusting to left field and at the plate, led manager Clint Hurdle to move him back to right field to simplify things.
“We tried one thing and one didn’t work,” McCutchen said. “With everything that went on, it made it a little tougher to be able to do that. So we just had to go back to the drawing board and now we’re back to where we were in the past.”
Marte will have 15 days to work his way back into game shape, but it’s hardly going to be a typical rehab assignment. He’s already been working out and playing games in Pirate City for quite some time, with those games coming early during his suspension.
“This has been a whole different testing ground for us because he’s already played a bunch of games already,” Hurdle said. “But it’s the degree of the game and the level of competition. To think he’s ready for nine innings in his first game? I don’t think that’s fair. You’ve got 15 days in which to work with. We’ll build up just a little bit and get him to Indy later in the week. I anticipate him playing nine innings by the back half of next week.”
Bradenton plays at home Monday and then will go on the road for the rest of the week.
MAKING THE MOST OF IT
In Marte’s absence, Adam Frazier has gotten the majority of the extra reps in the outfield and he’s done well there. With Marte’s return, Frazier expects to transition back into the utility role that earned him a Major League spot as a rookie in 2016. But he’s thankful for the chance he got to prove he can be an every day player.
“It was a good opportunity for me,” Frazier said. “Happy to get Marte. He’s one of the best players in the league. It’s a big boost for our lineup. But it gave me an opportunity to prove that I can do that and that I’m ready for that. I did a pretty good job, I feel like and honestly, I could have done even better. It’s good to have success. I’m just going to try to build on it and keep pushing.”
With Saturday’s 4 p.m. game going late into extra innings, the Pirates are resting David Freese, Josh Harrison and McCutchen Sunday afternoon.
‘In a perfect world, you’d like to space everything out,” Hurdle said. “Guys are tired when guys are tired.”
Catcher Francisco Cervelli worked out on the field and in the batting cage under the watchful eye of team trainer Todd Tomczyk for the third straight day as he returns from post-concussion symptoms.
Cervelli seems to be nearing a return, but his long-term future as a catcher remains a concern. Cervelli has already had a handful of concussions in his Major League career. John Jaso was forced to make a move out from behind the plate before he got to Pittsburgh because of repeated concussion, and the Pirates are mindful of that going forward with Cervelli.
“I think what we’ll want to do is get him going,” Hurdle said. “I know he wants to ignite behind the plate. Then the next conversation can be how can we maybe look at some other options. But that’s a conversation I have not had with him.”