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Pregame: Marte returns to the lineup

Tom Pennington

Marte returns

On Friday, Hurdle said that Starling Marte was going to have to accept the fact that he is going to feel some pain for the rest of the season and that he is going to need to find a way to battle through it and return to the lineup. That process starts tonight, as Marte will play left field and bat leadoff. "There's a point in time where the conversation has got to end and the young man's got to play and figure things out as he goes along," Hurdle said today. "I'm looking forward to watching him play. We're a much more dynamic team with him in left field and leading off."

There is no doubt the Pirates are a better team with Marte in the lineup, but they did a nice job weathering the storm in his absence. Since his last start, August 19, the Pirates have posted a 15-12 record and scored 3.8 runs per game, down only 0.1 R/G from their average over the first 123 games.

Problems with the curveball

After yesterday's game, Padres' starter Andrew Cashner mentioned that part of his game plan was to rely on his curveball. He cited it as one weakness in an otherwise strong Pirates' offense.

According to pitch type linear weights, the Pirates have indeed had problems with the curveball. They rank next-to-last in production against the pitch, with a -14.2 linear weight score. The interpretation is: the Pirates have lost 14 runs compared to league average against curveballs. (Link to pitch type linear weights.)

Yes (we've seen it a lot), the one thing the curveball does, it's a lower velocity pitch, is get you off the cutter, the fastball, the slider. It slows down the bat and the swing. And then a guy with a quality fastball, like him, can beat you. The curveball is a challenging pitch and especially it has been for our team this year.

The emergence of Kyle Farnsworth

When the Pirates picked up Kyle Farnsworth I shared the concern expressed by many fans of the team that Hurdle would move him into a high-leverage slot simply because of his veteranosity. However, with Jason Grilli's struggles since returning and Justin Wilson being used very sparingly for one reason or another (no one with the team has suggested anything is wrong with him), Farnsworth is increasingly being moved into a high-leverage role out of necessity.

For example, in Sunday's game against the Chicago Cubs, Kyle Farnsworth pitched the eighth inning of a tied game instead of Justin Wilson or Jason Grilli. It was the first time he entered a game in a high-leverage situation since joining the Pirates. (The entering leverage was 1.79; 1.50 is considered "high" leverage.) He pitched a scoreless inning, thanks in part to a Cubs TOOTBLAN that resulted in double play.

With Farnsworth surely to pitch in more high-leverage situations over the next two-and-a-half weeks, I quickly looked at some of his numbers this season and came away somewhat surprised. Since the end of May he has pitched 24 innings and his numbers during that period compare favorably with some of the Pirates' other options (not named Melancon or Watson) for late inning, high leverage work.


(*Wilson's ERA is a little misleading, as it doesn't account for the fact that 65 percent of his inherited runners have scored over the last 24 innings.)

Yesterday, Hurdle suggested that Farnsworth's strong performance since June may have to do with the right-hander dealing with a health issues earlier this season. Farnsworth brushed aside any discussion of an early season injury this afternoon.

Whatever the case may be, at this point he is a strong candidate to make both a Wild Card and NLDS roster. Sure bets to make the roster include Mark Melancon, Vin Marrzaro, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Jason Grilli and probably Jeanmar Gomez. The seventh spot would come down to Bryan Morris or Farnsworth, but since it is likely the Pirates would only go with three starters in a five game series, both could make the roster. (Or, if the Pirates carry one of their starters and put him in the bullpen, it could again come down to Morris or Farnsworth.) When asked today about his feelings about making the postseason roster, Farnsworth gave the answer you'd expect:

I haven't really thought about that. I'm going out there day-by-day trying to help this team win. What happens, happens. I'm just going to go out there and have fun with this team.

Farnsworth's recent success bodes well for the Pirates and, here again, General Manager Neal Huntington appears to deserve credit for finding another unlikely, but valuable, addition to the bullpen.