Posted on September 23, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine

Pittsburgh Pirates Starling Marte

Image via usatoday.com

The long-awaited return of left fielder Starling Marte to the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup was cut painfully short on Thursday. Marte was on the shelf for more than two weeks with back spasms, but was finally well enough to pinch hit on Wednesday night and then finally returned to the starting lineup on Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately, his return for short-lived, as Marte was forced to exit in the 3rd inning due to back discomfort.

After striking out in a pinch-hitting appearance Wednesday night, Marte singled up the middle in his first at bat on Thursday, signaling a promising return to the lineup for the final week and a half of the season. However, after fouling off a pitch in his second at bat, Marte could be seen grabbing his back. After an on-field visit from manager Clint Hurdle and head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk, Marte was removed from the game with what the team is calling lower back discomfort.

“If you saw the game, you saw the swings in the middle of the at-bat,” Hurdle said of Marte’s two plate appearances. “Those swings just aren’t going to play.”

Tomczyk said earlier in the week that Marte had participated in a full workout and was ready to return to the field. However, something is clearly still wrong with his back after his early exit Thursday night. The Pirates have not said anything about how soon he may return from Thursday’s early exit or how serious this recurrence of his back issue may be.

Pittsburgh has undoubtedly missed Marte over the past two weeks, as he’s having arguably the best year of his career. Despite missing more than two weeks late in the season, Marte has already set career highs in doubles (34) and stolen bases (47). He’s also poised to set new career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging. He’s been the brightest star in Pittsburgh’s dynamic outfield and the team has struggled to get by without him, especially with Andrew McCutchen having a down year.

While Marte was out, the Pirates fell more or less out of contention for a wild card spot, with the Mets, Cardinals, and Giants involved in a tight, three-way race for two spots. Pittsburgh had managed to crawl back within 3.5 games heading into Thursday, but the loss to the Brewer’s following Marte’s early exit drops them 4.5 games back with 10 games left to play.

Whether Marte will be able return to the lineup and help the Pirates make one last improbable push for a wild card spot remains to be seen. Either way, his continued back issues are a concern for Pittsburgh’s future, as Marte is signed through at least 2019. This could make the Pirates think twice about trying to put him back on the field this season; they may be better off simply trying to get Marte healthy for 2017.

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