PITTSBURGH -- Starling Marte wants to finish this season strong, to show that he is still working to prove himself to the Pirates and their fans, following his 80-game suspension earlier this year. But as far as the Bucs are concerned, Marte's offensive numbers don't mean much at this point.
Marte is hitting .255 with a .666 OPS since he was suspended following a positive test for the performance-enhancing substance Nandrolone. Manager Clint Hurdle believes the decline is primarily a product of the three months Marte sat out serving his suspension.
"The only continuation of a challenge and an adjustment we need to make, that I see, is against left-handed pitching. Everything else, we've kicked it to the curb," Hurdle said. "The game's been fast. He's doing everything he can do to catch up. There's been glimpses of it from time to time."
There was another glimpse in the first inning of Friday's 4-3 loss to the Cardinals, when Marte singled to center field, then stole his team-leading 19th base of the season. On the bases and in left field, he looks like the player who made the National League All-Star team a year ago.
"The offensive part of the game's been hard, and I attribute that to missing 80 games, without a doubt," Hurdle said. "Tremendous challenge."
Marte wouldn't deny that. Hitting is tough enough as it is, even for someone who batted .311 with 48 extra-base hits in 129 games last year. But when a suspension costs you three months?
"You take two days off, and your timing could go away that rapidly. It's a tough situation," Marte said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "It's a tough game. However, the effort is there. … I definitely believe that my timing has gotten a lot better."
Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon faced the same challenge last season. Suspended in April for using PEDs, Gordon returned in July and batted .268 with a .645 OPS the rest of the way. Gordon has returned to form this year, hitting .308 with a .718 OPS as of Friday afternoon.
Marte said he has tried to compensate with extra time in the batting cages and additional work with the Pirates' hitting coaches. He hopes to further make up for lost time by playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic at the end of the year.
"There will also be some relief when it's all said and done, because it'll all be said and done, and he can look forward to getting ready for the following season," Hurdle said. "There's definitely a want to play."
Before his suspension ended on July 18, Marte admitted he was unsure how fans would treat him. There were some boos during his return to PNC Park, and he heard more jeers than usual at Wrigley Field. But for the most part, he has been warmly welcomed back.
"It's been a tremendous, huge blessing to have the fans receive me with so much love and care," Marte said. "I came out here to show and win the trust of my teammates, the organization and also the fans, to go out on the field and show them every day I'm the same Marte.
"It's true, I've had some fans that make some really rude comments. I get it. It's part of the game. But I've seen more fans that are optimistic, very positive with me and just shown me a lot of love. They've sent me messages saying they're with me and I'm not alone, and I'm very grateful for those fans."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.