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Marte's wheels refreshed after 3-day break

Bucs outfielder racking up steals as he busts out of June slump
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- A week ago, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte was trying to swing his way out of a slump at Dodger Stadium. Manager Clint Hurdle gave him three games off in a row -- three "work days" -- so Marte could shift his focus away from what happened on the field.

That strategy worked for Andrew McCutchen in 2016 and '17, and it seems to be working for Marte as well. Marte was coming off the worst offensive month of his career, posting a .568 OPS in June. He entered Tuesday's game against the Nationals at PNC Park with 10 hits, a homer, two doubles and five steals in five games since returning from the brief benching.

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PITTSBURGH -- A week ago, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte was trying to swing his way out of a slump at Dodger Stadium. Manager Clint Hurdle gave him three games off in a row -- three "work days" -- so Marte could shift his focus away from what happened on the field.

That strategy worked for Andrew McCutchen in 2016 and '17, and it seems to be working for Marte as well. Marte was coming off the worst offensive month of his career, posting a .568 OPS in June. He entered Tuesday's game against the Nationals at PNC Park with 10 hits, a homer, two doubles and five steals in five games since returning from the brief benching.

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"The three days the manager gave me made me more relaxed, cleared my mind, not having to worry about what happened when I was struggling," Marte said Tuesday afternoon. "I didn't have to worry about that. Now, [I'm] more relaxed and my mind's very clear. Just play the game."

For Marte, that means utilizing his elite speed. He stole three bases on Friday, bunted for a hit on Sunday and swiped a base each of the past two days.

Video: PHI@PIT: Marte steals his 200th career base

"Every time I get on base, I focus on the next base. Everybody knows that," Marte said. "The more I get on base, the more I'm going to steal. That's happening right now. ... That's a big part of my game right now."

Marte's full array of abilities was on display during Monday night's 6-3 win. He pulled a double to left, stole second, threw out a runner at third, drew a walk and made an excellent sliding catch in center to end the fifth inning.

Video: WSH@PIT: Marte cuts down Muprhy at third base

Marte entered Tuesday night tied for the Major League lead in stolen bases (23) and outfield assists (nine) while ranking among the leaders in outs above average (eight), according to Statcast™, and leading the Pirates with 2.3 wins above replacement.

"He got to that spot where the game was hard, and he continued to work because he believed he could figure it out and he could do some things to turn it around. I believe he's tracking in that direction," Hurdle said. "That skill set doesn't come along very often, and I think he's much more appreciative of it now than he's ever been."

Around the horn
• The Pirates optioned right-hander Alex McRae to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room on the roster for right-hander Joe Musgrove, who started Tuesday night at PNC Park. Pittsburgh added McRae to the 40-man roster and called him up on Saturday to provide bullpen depth, but he did not pitch.

Top prospect Mitch Keller, recently promoted to Triple-A, started on Tuesday for Class A Advanced Bradenton to keep him in line for the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park on Sunday. Keller will be joined at the Futures Game by Double-A Altoona third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes, the Bucs' No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

Corey Dickerson on Monday became the Pirates' 10th leadoff hitter this season and returned to that spot Tuesday. The other nine are Josh Harrison (39 starts), Adam Frazier (26), Austin Meadows (six), Sean Rodriguez (five), Max Moroff (four), Marte (four), Josh Bell (three), Francisco Cervelli (one) and Jordy Mercer (one).

The last time the Pirates used 10 leadoff men in one season was 2000.

Video: WSH@PIT: Vazquez induces a double play to record save

• Closer Felipe Vazquez on Monday picked up his 40th career save for the Pirates, setting the club record for most saves by a left-hander. Vazquez was unavailable Tuesday after pitching three days in a row.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Starling Marte