Sore Marte available off bench; offense rolling

Sore Marte available off bench; offense rolling

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates hoped to fan their offensive fire Saturday night without their hottest hitter. Starling Marte remained on the bench with a sore left elbow two days after being hit by an A.J. Burnett pitch.

According to manager Clint Hurdle, Marte was available off the bench -- but only to use his legs in a pinch-running capacity.

Marte thus again sat on a 10-game hitting streak, during which he is 16-for-41 with four doubles and a pair of home runs. It is the most recent spree that makes Marte the Majors' most improved regular from the season's first half to the second.

Marte entered the All-Star break at .256, and has hit .353 since -- the 97-point jump being the biggest among all big leaguers with a minimum of 450 total plate appearances.

The awakening has occurred in the middle of the lineup for the erstwhile leadoff man.

The Bucs went into Saturday night's game against he Cubs having scored five or more runs in six of their last eight games, their most prolific stretch of the season.

"We're in a place where everybody has been able to throw a quality at-bat out there, and when you connect dots like that, you can have the big innings," Hurdle said.

Worth noting

• In sweeping the first four games this month between the teams, the Pirates have been able to stay away from the back end of a Cubs bullpen (Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon) Hurdle called "very powerful, when they're ahead."

The Cubs have had a lead for one inning -- after the third inning of the Sept. 5 game in Wrigley Field.

• After having rarely come across a left-handed opposition starter in the first half, the Bucs have faced a rash of them between the southpaw-heavy rotations of the Rockies and the Cubs.

Getting timings down has taken a while, but the Pirates totaled 53 hits in the last four games started by a lefty.

"Any time you see guys over and over, you get to a comfort level," said Jordy Mercer, a career .348 hitter versus lefties.

First number, last word

16-6: Pirates' record this season in front of home crowds of 35,000-plus.

"Not because I'm cocky or anything. But, yes, if I got a chance to play, just because of the confidence I have." -- Josh Harrison, on whether in Spring Training he could have envisioned leading the National League in hitting in mid-September.

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