CHICAGO -- The historical significance of his second home run on Saturday against the Cubs certainly wasn’t lost on Starling Marte.
Marte, who has homered three times over the first two games of the Pirates’ three-game series with the Cubs, became just the second player in team history to hit at least 100 home runs and steal 200 bases. The other: former star outfielder Barry Bonds, who hit 176 home runs and stole 251 bases with the Pirates from 1986-92.
Yet, as prized company as he may be keeping, Marte -- who has 100 home runs and 227 stolen bases entering Sunday afternoon’s game against the Cubs -- continues to put in the work to become much more than a home run hitter, as evidenced by his .281 average and his effort to put as square of a swing as he can on every good pitch he’s seeing.
“He likes hitting the ball hard,” manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday. “He likes squaring the ball up. More home runs are thrown than hit, and he’s getting balls that are elevated in the strike zone and is putting his ‘A’ swing on them and riding them out of the ballpark.”
Marte credits his work ethic along with the continual effort he has put in with Pirates hitting coach Rick Eckstein for the improvement he has seen in his approach to hitting. Marte said Sunday that having the patience to trust the process of becoming a more complete hitter has gone a long way in his development.
Hurdle, meanwhile, has seen better in-game focus, daily energy and preparation, which he said have led to the progress that Marte continues to exhibit.
The process of getting better remains on-going for the 30-year-old outfielder.
“A lot of times, even when I miss pitches or have tough at-bats, I come back to my hitting coaches [and say], ‘Hey, what did you have on that? I saw this,’ and they make adjustments with me,” Marte said through a team translator on Sunday. “To see the fruit come out of that and the benefits come out of that has been awesome.
“[Coaches] are constantly looking out for those little adjustments and the little things I can adjust, whether it be location or body adjustments -- whatever it is, that’s what’s been giving me success.”
Hitting the pause button
Shortstop Erik González has hit a small roadblock in his Minor League rehab assignment at Triple-A Indianapolis due to a left hamstring strain. Gonzalez was originally placed on the injured list on April 20 with a left clavicle fracture.
Hurdle said Sunday that he spoke to Gonzalez last week and that he remains upbeat and that progress reports aren’t bad but that the pause button needs to be hit. Hurdle said Gonzalez won’t engage in any baseball activity until Wednesday.
“With all he’s been through, he’s still upbeat, he’s still positive, [and] he wants to play,” Hurdle said.
On the mend in Indy
Righty Keone Kela (right shoulder inflammation) began a Minor League rehab assignment at Indianapolis on Saturday and threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts. Before Saturday, Kela hadn’t appeared in a game since May 25 in Indianapolis.
Also on Saturday, outfielder Gregory Polanco (left shoulder inflammation) went 2-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs in a 17-5 victory over Columbus. Hurdle said Sunday there is not yet a definitive timetable for Polanco's return to the Pirates.