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Pregame: Clint Hurdle discusses Russell Martin's many contributions

Justin K. Aller

Notes and quotes from today's pregame:

Harrison update

Josh Harrison is available to pinch hit tonight. Clint Hurdle declined to speculate when Harrison will be ready to return to the starting lineup.

(Lack of) Alvarez update

Hurdle didn't have an update on Pedro Alvarez's status other than that they are waiting for the medical team to interpret results from tests that were performed on his foot in Chicago. Alvarez is with the club in Philadelphia.

Another town, another chance to talk about Martin's value

Hurdle was asked again today about the importance of Russell Martin to the team. After joking that he is asked the same question in almost every town the Pirates visit, Hurdle went on and was as effusive in his praise of Martin as I've heard him.

"He's impacted this club as much as any player we have," Hurdle said. "Andrew McCutchen deservedly deserves all the recognition he gets. Russell Martin is just as important part of this ball club as Andrew McCutchen is, it's [just in] a different role."

Hurdle discussed Martin's improved offense and continued excellent defense before adding an interesting observation about how he also affects the psychological mindset of the pitchers.

"He's has the ability to make every pitcher feel like he's going to be the best he's ever been that day that he's on the mound with Russell behind the plate," Hurdle said.

Pirates pitchers have posted a 3.51 ERA with Martin catching, which is 0.30 better than when either Chris Stewart or Tony Sanchez have been behind the plate.

Perhaps with a nod towards questions about Martin's age and durability going forward, Hurdle said, "He's more physically fit right now in September than he was at anytime last season."

A weakness turning into a strength?

Over the last 14 days, the Pirates bullpen has posted the second lowest ERA (1.29) in baseball. Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson and John Holdzkom have combined for 21.2 innings pitched, allowing only 11 hits and one run, while netting 27 strikeouts.

Marte batting first, again

For the third game in a row, Starling Marte will leadoff. Since returning from the concussion disabled list on August 5, Marte is batting .333/.394/.539.

Steady mechanics and good command are keys for Locke

Lacking overpowering stuff, precise location is a large part of Jeff Locke's game. In games that he has allowed two walks or fewer, Locke has posted a 2.99 ERA and 0.93 HR/9. When allowing three or more walks, the numbers skyrocket to 6.97 ERA and 1.74 HR/9.

Hurdle said that Locke has become better at self-diagnosing the mechanical problems that cause him to lose command occasionally, but he added that Martin is also important in that regard.

"Russ [Martin] does a fantastic job, as good as anyone I've ever had at pointing things out to pitchers," Hurdle said.  "Usually there is not a lot a whole lot of shelf life after it's happened a couple of times. He will see something and go out and give [the pitcher] a little reminder."