PITTSBURGH -- Starling Marte, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the other day, "is itching to play."
Tuesday, Marte finally did some scratching: He was back in the Bucs' lineup, at both of his familiar spots, in left field and in the leadoff spot. He finished 1-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning in the Pirates' 5-2 loss against the Padres.
Jumping back in after a month's absence without the benefit of any rehab competition is a difficult deal. But the Pirates have to get a read on the extent of postseason contribution they can get from their dynamo and, with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, had to untether him.
"There's a point of time conversations gotta end, and he's gotta go play," said Hurdle, who conceded the challenge of returning without having seen live pitching except in a batting cage. "But that's where we are, and we have to deal with the realistic part of it. He's worked extremely hard, and this is the next test. How long before he has the timing he needs?"
The Pirates didn't expect to be without Marte for a full month when he was stepped on by Arizona's Martin Prado during an attempted steal of third on Aug. 18, badly bruising his right hand. Neither could they have expected to go 15-12 during Marte's absence from the starting lineup. Most of the slack was picked up by Jose Tabata, in whose left-field starts the Bucs were 15-9; Tabata batted .283 in those 24 games and produced 18 runs.
"Tabata has done a very professional job, being the next-man-up and holding down that position," Hurdle said. "But we're all aware Starling's skill set is special; we're a much more dynamic team with him in left field and leading off."
While working his way back step by step, Marte had appeared in seven games, as a pinch-runner and on defense.
Vera Clemente, Nutting present McCutchen with award
PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen, who was announced on Monday as one of 30 nominees for the 2013 MLB Roberto Clemente Award, was presented with the Pirates Roberto Clemente Award in a brief but illustrious pregame ceremony Tuesday night.
Vera Clemente, the late humanitarian's widow, and Pirates club chairman Bob Nutting participated in the presentation to McCutchen.
In addition to the award, the three-time All-Star outfielder received a framed replica of Clemente's vintage No. 21 Pirates jersey.
First number, last word
.362: The collective season average of the Pirates' 3M Co. -- when Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Andrew McCutchen are 1-2-3 in the lineup -- which was back in business Tuesday night.
"The three years I've been here, they've just played better than us. But 29-10? That's a 'Wow.' But you don't have to dig much more than this: We have to play a better overall game. It's up to us to change." -- Hurdle, prior to Tuesday night's game, on the Padres' historic domination of the home team at PNC Park
• The Pirates entered their 76th home game having smacked 61 homers at PNC Park to the visitors' 32 -- only nine have been allowed since the All-Star break.
• A.J. Burnett's sporadic run support can be portrayed numerous ways, but perhaps nothing makes the point better than this: He has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his 13 home starts, yet has only a .500 record [4-4] in PNC Park.
• This is Hurdle's 10th full season of managing, and in eight of the prior nine his clubs were either under .500 or more than 10 games behind [often, both] entering September. So he was asked whether his also-ran teams tended to get psyched against contenders, i.e., the spoiler concept.
"They could but, at the end of the day, that's impacted by the effort off the mound," Hurdle said. "You can have nine guys who all 'want,' but if that starting pitcher goes out and doesn't have a good day, the whole terrain changes."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.