Hurdle: Marte free to toy with baserunners

Hurdle: Marte free to toy with baserunners

SEATTLE -- Starling Marte is a special athlete.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and anyone else familiar with the Pittsburgh outfielder knows this, and they especially know it this year, since Marte is on pace to put up the best batting average, OPS and stolen-base totals of a career that already saw him earn a Gold Glove last year. Marte, 27, entered Wednesday's series finale with the Mariners batting .325 with six home runs, 30 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and an OPS of .853. He's also tied for the Major League lead with nine outfield assists.

Hurdle shared with reporters the inkling that Marte might occasionally be using that athleticism and defensive ability in a way that only the best outfielders even dare trying: by pretending to struggle while fielding base hits in order to fake out baserunners and nail them when they try to take an extra bag.

"He very well could have some of that in him, yeah," Hurdle said. "He plays with an edge out there."

Hurdle mentioned players around the National League who are capable of such dynamic moves in the outfield, such as Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers. He also mentioned players who did it when he was playing, such as Dwight Evans of the Red Sox and Larry Walker of the Rockies.

"It looked like there's no play, he doesn't know what he's doing," Hurdle said of Walker's approach to such plays. "Before you know it, here it comes and you're like, 'Whoa.' You're cooked.

"I do think Marte has tried to employ that. I think he finds ways to keep himself entertained as well."

And is that OK with a manager, watching an outfielder potentially surrender an extra base on a gamble?

"I'm a fan of giving men the opportunity to play the game, and they all have different skills and they're capable of different thing," Hurdle said. "When it becomes a selfish act, that's when I might step in and we might have a conversation. If it's still geared towards the betterment of the team and a guy utilizing his skill set and maximizing it, I'm all for it.

"When [Marte] does something special and significant, you don't see him beat his chest, you don't see him pointing to the number on the back of his jersey. So I'm good with all that."

Less stress for Hughes

Sinkerballing reliever Jared Hughes was a revelation for the Pittsburgh bullpen the last two years, pitching to a 1.96 ERA in 2014 and a 2.28 ERA in 67 innings over 76 games. This season hasn't gone as well so far. Hughes brought a 4.18 ERA and 1.69 WHIP into Wednesday's game against the Mariners.

Hurdle said the club has been putting Hughes in multiple-inning situations with less stress to try to get his stuff and confidence back to where it was.

"I've talked to him about it," Hurdle said. "We're just going to bring him in for fresh innings, give him some fresh innings for a while where there's not the need to come in and throw a strike. And I don't mean just a strike, but like in bowling, a strike, where it's that good, hard sink and it's down, and one pitch, two pitches, you get the ground ball and you roll it, which we saw him do ... last year. ... It was crazy good.

"Just give him the opportunity to come in and pitch without that guy being on base, first and third or first and second. Just a different look."

Vogelsong progressing

Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who has been out since suffering multiple facial fractures that required surgery after being hit by a pitch on June 2, came out of a Tuesday bullpen session in good order and is scheduled to pitch a simulated game on Friday when the Pirates are in Oakland.

"He's coming along really well," Hurdle said.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.