ST. LOUIS -- Pirates center fielder Starling Marte received an 80-game suspension without pay, effective immediately, on Tuesday for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, a devastating blow to a Pittsburgh club with an already-thin margin for error in the National League Central.
Marte tested positive for Nandrolone, a performance-enhancing substance, according to a statement by the Commissioner's Office. The 28-year-old will be ineligible for the postseason if the Pirates qualify, but their odds will be much longer without their No. 2-hitting center fielder.
The Pirates learned of Marte's suspension late Monday night, and his teammates found out Tuesday, when Marte addressed the team in St. Louis and apologized. Left fielder Gregory Polanco called the situation "heartbreaking."
"He was crying and everything. That's a hard moment, I know. I can feel it. I can see it in the way he talked to me," Polanco said. "We've got to continue. We know our goals. We know we're going to miss him for sure, a lot, the kind of player he is. But we have to fight through this and move forward."
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon through the MLB Players Association, Marte said "neglect and lack of knowledge" led to the "mistake" and apologized for his actions.
"In this very difficult moment I apologize to my family, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my teammates, my fans, and baseball in general," Marte said. "Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much. With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much. I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me. God bless you."
In the meantime, the Pirates will move forward with Andrew McCutchen -- moved from center to right field after last season -- back in center field. Without a dedicated fourth outfielder on their roster, the Pirates will use multiple players in right field, including Adam Frazier and Spring Training sensation Jose Osuna, who was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday to take Marte's spot on the roster.
"It's an unfortunate circumstance, but we have a lot of season left," starter Gerrit Cole said. "We're going to have to figure out how to get through it, and we will. It's what this team is built on. It's what this organization is built on. It's always next man up. I expect nothing less."
Pittsburgh was already without one of its most potent hitters: third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who is on the restricted list and awaiting a work visa in South Korea following an offseason arrest for driving under the influence, his third such charge since 2009.
"The Pittsburgh Pirates fully support MLB's Joint Drug Agreement, including the very tough penalties for violations of its prohibitions," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said. "We are disappointed that Starling put himself, his teammates and the organization in this position. We will continue to fight for the division title with the men who are here and will look forward to getting Starling back after the All-Star break."
The loss of Marte further weakens the Pirates' lineup and outfield defense, both expected to be strengths that would support their young pitching rotation. Still, the Pirates offered support for their friend, hoped he will learn from his mistake and focused on moving forward.
"You hate to hear anything like that for anyone, especially your own teammate. You hate to hear it," McCutchen said. "Guys make mistakes, but the last thing I need to be doing is distancing myself away from him or whatever that may be. I'm just trying to be a good friend before I am a teammate. ... When you make a mistake, you've got to pay for it. It's that simple, regardless, teammate or not."
Marte has emerged over the past few years as one of the game's rising stars, a dynamic defender and a weapon on the basepaths. He made his first NL All-Star team last season and won his second straight Gold Glove Award in left field, prompting the Pirates to realign their outfield to more prominently feature him.
Marte was batting .241/.288/.370 with two home runs, two steals and seven RBIs in 13 games this year. He hit .311/.362/.456 with nine homers, 46 RBIs and 47 steals last season.
"We'll miss him for 80 games. At the same time, we've got to continue to move forward," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We'll do that as an organization. We'll do everything we can to support him and to make him as close to being ready as possible when he is eligible to be reinstated."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.