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Marte brings unique dynamic to cleanup spot

PITTSBURGH -- Starling Marte didn't look much like a traditional cleanup hitter in the fifth inning Sunday afternoon. With the bases clear and Mets lefty Jon Niese on the mound, he dropped down a bunt and sped down the line, unable to beat out the throw to first.

But he looked the part in the sixth inning. With first base open, the Mets intentionally walked the red-hot Andrew McCutchen. Up came Marte, who swung at the first pitch and ripped it into the first row of the left-field seats for a three-run homer.

There is perhaps no better sequence to summarize the unusual dynamic of Marte the cleanup hitter.

Yet Marte has thrived in that role. Manager Clint Hurdle began slotting Marte fourth in the Pirates' lineup in early May, and has stuck with it ever since.

"He wasn't as warm and fuzzy about it as I was. And rightfully so," Hurdle said last week. "He's a young guy. He's got some experience. He did some good things [batting fifth], and then your whacked-out manager says, 'Hey, by the way, let's just try this. Let's throw you in the four-spot, kid, and let's roll.' I told him why.

"Some people don't get that at all. I think he actually got that. It all depends on your mindset. He was open, but it was weird."

Hurdle still doesn't believe that's where Marte fits long-term. He said in Spring Training that he wanted to use Marte in the middle of the order, as a run producer, but not fourth.

But for now, that's where Marte makes the most sense. He's filled the role admirably, ranking among the National League leaders in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage.

"He's been our run-production guy. He's been the guy that is able to be consistently in position to read pitches and be able to do some damage," hitting coach Jeff Branson said. "Does he profile as your four-hole hitter? No. But it doesn't really matter as long as he gets the job done."

And for the most part, Marte is getting the job done. That's been the case over the last two years, and it was once again the case Sunday afternoon.

"He's got that ability. He's that guy that can take swings that make you go, 'Huh,'" Hurdle said. "Then, before you know it, he's trotting around the bases or he's driven in a couple."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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