Marte deserving of benching

PITTSBURGH — Clint Hurdle did what he had to do, and that was the right thing.

He benched Starling Marte for Monday’s game against the Atlanta Braves one day after Marte embarrassed the team — and by extension, the manager — with apathetic play against the Chicago Cubs.

Marte failed to run out a ground ball, then ignored third base coach Joey Cora’s instructions and broke for the plate on an infield grounder. Marte compounded the latter mistake by failing to get into a rundown that would have let a runner advance into scoring position.

So the next afternoon, Hurdle called Marte into the office, told him his work was below an acceptable standard and kept him out of the starting lineup.

That’s what he should have done. Not only does it tell Marte he can’t phone it in, and the rest of the team got that message, too.

Marte has been an ongoing source of frustration for the Pirates. They signed him to a long-term contract, betting that his considerable talent would allow him to grow into the kind of player Andrew McCutchen became with the Pirates.

It hasn’t happened. Marte turns 30 on Oct. 9, when the Pirates probably won’t be in the postseason. At the start of play Tuesday, Marte was batting .275 with an OPS of .781. He’s hit 17 home runs, driven in 57 runs and has succeeded on 28 of 37 stolen base attempts (76 per cent).

Those are good numbers, but not the kind that will lead to MVP votes or carry a team. And that’s what the Pirates expected from Marte when they signed him to the contract that could run through 2021 if the Pirates exercise their options.

It should be a great deal for the Pirates, but it won’t be unless Marte fully lives up to his potential. He should be embarrassed that he had to benched for lack of effort at this point in his career. He should be equally ashamed that teammates had to call him out for the same reason.

Marte isn’t a kid. He’s a veteran who should be setting an example for the players younger than he is.

Instead, he had to be publicly upbraided for his failure to make an honest effort.

But his egregious lack of commitment left Hurdle no choice.

SUBHEAD: Second chance

Hurdle wound up using Marte as a pinch hitter at the end of Monday’s game.

His choices were limited since Josh Harrison was unavailable because of a hamstring injury.

His presence at the plate upset those who probably thought Marte should have been sent home.

But Hurdle had to put the team ahead of whatever dissatisfaction he had with Marte. The Pirates were trailing 1-0 and in a position where one of their better hitters (although slumping lately) was available.

The only other available hitter was Elias Diaz, and managers are reluctant to use their other catcher unless they have no other choice. Had it been a lopsided score in either direction, it would have been fine to let Kevin Newman bat and keep Marte planted on the bench.

So Hurdle let Marte bat for inexperienced Newman against Daniel Winkler. Hurdle owed that to the other 24 players, who are still nominally chasing the wild card spot.

SUBHEAD: Giving up

The Washington Nationals acknowledged the obvious Tuesday and dealt Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs and Matt Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Both players are approaching free agency at the end of the season. The Nationals are playing our the string in a hugely disappointing season.

The failure is even more profound with the realization the Nationals came into this season with a $180 million payroll.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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