PITTSBURGH -- Do September games against a team like the Chicago Cubs -- 86 losses, coming off a one-sided four-game sweep in Washington -- faze a contender such as the Pirates? Do teams that have nothing to lose get in the heads of teams that have everything to gain?"I know the manager [Dale Sveum] and his staff, and he expects a lot out of his club," said Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle. "He's not gonna back away from the flame now. They come from a series that was very challenging, so I'm sure they're ornery. "You've gotta go and play. We don't take anything for granted; we haven't won anything yet." From a pragmatic standpoint, the true challenge is managing against the bloated rosters with which also-rans show up in September. The Cubs hit town with 29 players -- which is not an exaggerated number, yet still strategically testing. "There are only three, four guys in these lineups you can even attempt to leverage," said Hurdle, referring to making effective pitching moves. "Anyone else, they're gonna flip a pinch-hitter on you. The Astros did it to us [in the previous series], and the Cubs have four, five spots like that today. "But you try to not complicate the game. You do what you feel is the best move for your club."
Hurdle ejected after disputing close play at third
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle got ejected from Friday night's game in the sixth inning after arguing a defensive play at third base.With the Cubs' Brett Jackson on second and no outs, Darwin Barney grounded to short and Josh Harrison tossed to third baseman Pedro Alvarez attempting to retire Jackson. Third-base umpire Gary Darling signaled safe and, from the moment he emerged from the dugout to argue the call, it seemed evident Hurdle was bent on inciting his own ejection. He admitted as much after the Pirates' 12-2 defeat, but the motive was not trying to fire up his team. "He said he was safe. But he was out," Hurdle said. "It just wasn't one I was going to walk away from." The Pirates were in the early stages of arguably their worst game of the season, already trailing the lowly Cubs, 4-0, and having been held to one hit by left-hander Travis Wood. However, lighting a fuse under his club was not something that crossed the manager's mind. "That didn't even occur to me," Hurdle said. The ejection was the fourth of the season for Hurdle.
Marte activated before opener, starts in left field
PITTSBURGH -- Starling Marte returned to reclaim his left-field job -- but he couldn't reclaim his role as the Pirates' leadoff batter.On Friday, that still belonged to Brock Holt, who went 5-for-11 the previous three days. Marte was 2-for-12 in three rehab games that concluded his recovery from the strained right oblique that had him on the disabled list since Aug. 19. The Pirates activated the rookie outfielder prior to the opener of a weekend set against the Cubs. Marte's numbers in one game with Class Short-Season State College and two with Triple-A Indianapolis were irrelevant, of course. The important thing for him was "showing no limitations," in manager Clint Hurdle's assessment. "He's physically fit and ready to to," added Hurdle, ecstatic to have Marte back in the mix. "The athleticism he brings is very unique. To have that in the lineup on both sides of the ball gives us an added weapon we need to take advantage of. "[But Holt remains on top] based on what I've seen the last four days -- the performance and the production. He's been playing at a Major League speed. Marte needs to catch up a little bit." Marte batted leadoff in each of his first 22 starts with the Bucs following his July 25 promotion from Indianapolis.
Injured Pirates at various stages of rehab
PITTSBURGH -- You couldn't get off one of A.J. Burnett's spray pistols in the Pirates' clubhouse Friday without drenching one of their walking-wounded players.The latest on them, from closest to furthest from returning: Jose Tabata (left foot contusion) was "playable off the bench," manager Clint Hurdle said prior to Friday's opener vs. the Cubs. Tabata has been having more difficulty maneuvering in the outfield than swinging the bat. Travis Snider (strained right hamstring) could "possibly pinch-hit" Friday night, but Hurdle preferred giving him one more day of total inactivity. Chad Qualls (right big toe) will be activated, as planned, on Sunday. Neil Walker (lower-back tightness) took 30 indoor cuts, and was encouraged by how he felt immediately after those swings. The same exercise had not gone well three days earlier. Jeff Karstens (right hip flexor) played long toss Friday and has a bullpen session scheduled for Saturday. Hurdle noted that Karstens "will miss more than the one start" he already has.
It is not difficult finding Andrew McCutchen facts that make you go, "Wow," but this is particularly mind-blowing: McCutchen began Friday leading the National League with 93 runs scored and 172 hits. The only two Pirates player to ever lead the league in those two categories were Paul Waner in 1934 and Ginger Beaumont in 1903. The Bucs started Game No. 137 with a staff ERA of 3.78. The last season they finished with a sub-4.00 mark was 1998 (3.91). On Friday, the Pirates were attempting to win their first home series opener in a month. Their last win in an opener at PNC Park came against Arizona on Aug. 6.
"I don't pay attention to it. He's a great kid and I'm pulling for him. I wouldn't be thrilled about it, of course, but I've learned long ago not to worry about things I can't control."
-- Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes, on talk already beginning about Holt's ability to shift from second to short when Walker returns from a tight-back issue.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.