Marte producing from cleanup spot

Left fielder comfortable in new batting order, hits three-run homer vs. Phils

Marte producing from cleanup spot

PHILADELPHIA -- It is an apples-and-oranges comparison, to be sure, since Starling Marte spent the first half of the 2014 season atop the lineup, a spot that yields fewer run-producing situations, especially in the National League.

Still, the numbers: The three-run homer that highlighted the Pirates' Monday-night 4-3 victory over the Phillies gave Marte 24 RBIs and eight home runs, numbers he did not reach last season until June 15 and Aug. 18, respectively.

So there can be no denying Clint Hurdle's 20-20 peepers when he foresaw the speedy outfielder as an ideal mid-order weapon -- even while he was leading off, by necessity.

Marte began the season as the primary No. 5 hitter and a week ago was moved into the lineup's ultimate power slot, cleanup, where he has really come alive. He is hitting .345 and has driven in six runs in his eight games at No. 4.

Has Hurdle found one of his Holy Grails, a bona fide regular cleanup threat, something he had always hoped Pedro Alvarez would become?

"He's doing a real good job for us there. He's still working on some things, figuring things out. He's aggressive and dangerous," Hurdle said, no doubt in his mind picturing Marte's assault of the 0-2 pitch from Jerome Williams in the third inning. "He turned out to be dangerous tonight. He pushed through that at-bat, fouled off some balls, then jumped on a mistake. It was a big swing of the bat for us."

Marte definitely felt conflicted as a leadoff man. The Bucs put him there because of his speed, and they asked him to reach base often enough to make good use of it. Marte felt his hands were tied with intensifying attention on having the patience to draw walks.

Not his game.

"I do feel very comfortable where I am now," Marte said. "I'm more focused. More chance to drive in runs. I'm very comfortable there."

He was confirming Hurdle's intuition.

"I never felt the optimal position for him was as a leadoff guy," the manager said. "I like him in the middle of the lineup. I believe it's a more comfortable role for him, his style of play. He's a free-swinging ballplayer who profiles well for me in the middle of the lineup -- that's the DNA he takes out on the field."

Marte certainly has the genes to do damage here. He has hit safely in every game he has ever played in Citizens Bank Park, and is hitting .412 in the eight games, with five doubles and a pair of homers.

So that makes two places where Marte obviously feels comfortable.

"Sometimes, it's just a feeling you get in the box. Maybe it's the background, or the look you get at pitches," said Hurdle, who pointed out Marte's homer may have come in Citizens Bank Park, but wasn't a Citizens Bank Park homer, as products of this hitter-friendly yard are labeled.

"The ball he hit here, that goes out of anywhere," Hurdle said of the 405-foot shot into the left-center seats.

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 and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.