BRADENTON, Fla. -- Everyone knew it was going to happen eventually, including the player himself, so it was no shock when Starling Marte was in the group sent down in the latest round of cuts in Pirates camp on Sunday morning.
Marte joined fellow outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, right-handers Kyle McPherson and Bryan Morris and lefty Justin Wilson in being optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. There are now 43 active players in Major League camp, including 13 non-roster players. Among the 43, there are 22 pitchers (seven non-roster), 5 catchers (three non-roster), 11 infielders (two non-roster) and five outfielders (one non-roster).
Marte, the No. 3 rated prospect on the Pirates' Top 20 Prospects list and No. 40 overall among big league prospects, picked up one last base hit in Saturday's game against the Rays, an eighth-inning bunt single. That brought his Grapefruit League average up to .520.
"I wasn't discouraged," said Marte, with the assistance of translator and Bucs third baseman Pedro Alvarez, of the demotion. "I'm happy for the opportunity to show what I can do. I'll keep working until I have a chance."
Overall, Marte went 13-for-25 with three homers.
"Obviously we love the guy and are really excited about his offensive upside," general manager Neal Huntington said of Marte. "He has a chance to come up here and make an impact. He showed when he hits his pitch, he can hit just about anybody."
"[Marte] continued to show a need to refine his strike-zone command. His ability to barrel balls that aren't good pitches will be his biggest challenge in Triple-A.
Marte will split time with Hernandez in both left and center field in his first trip to Triple-A after struggling defensively at times in right this spring.
"Defensively, we were a little surprised," said Huntington. "We've seen a much better defensive outfielder [in the past]. He struggled [defensively this spring], and some of it might have had to do with [playing] right field, but we've got some work to do there [offensively] as far as consistency pitch-to-pitch."
Wilson, McPherson and Morris are all in the Pirates' Top 20 as well. Wilson is at No. 10. The lefty appeared in four Spring Training games, finishing with a 3.18 ERA over 5 2/3 innings. He gave up four hits and walked seven while striking out six. McPherson (No. 11), the Pirates' 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, didn't find much mound time in official Grapefruit League action, tossing just one scoreless inning against the Phillies on March 16. Morris (No. 15) gave up two unearned runs over four one-inning outings, yielding four hits and one walk while striking out two.
Hernandez hit .150 over 12 games, going 3-for-20, though he did go 3-for-3 in stolen-base attempts. None of the optioned players made the trip to Fort Myers, Fla., for either the official game or the "B" game slated for Sunday morning.
Despite rough outing, Morton stays grounded
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sometimes pitchers have success without their best stuff. And sometimes, like with Charlie Morton on Sunday afternoon, they do what's gotten them here and fail, at least in the box score.
Morton's line reads that he gave up five runs on seven hits in three innings. But while he didn't have pinpoint command, he also wasn't all over the place. Sure, he loaded the bases in the first, but got out of it with a strikeout. He gave up all five runs in the second, an inning that saw three groundouts, three ground ball singles, a fisted flare to right and one decently, albeit not scorched, extra-base hit. It left the right-hander perplexed, to say the least.
"I didn't see any line-drive gap doubles and balls hit off the wall or over the wall," Morton said. "It was just a lot of ground balls in the right spot. It was just kind of weird. It's hard for me to assess that in terms of the lack of success in the statistical analysis.
"It's hard to assess an outing like that, because really, what went wrong was usually what makes things go well for me, which is getting ground balls. I feel like I did what I was trying to do in terms of pitch to contact, getting weak contact. At the same time, I didn't do what I was trying to do, which is get people out and not letting them score runs."
Morton led the National League in ground ball-flyball ratio in 2011, so it's not surprising that four of the nine outs he recorded on Sunday were ground balls. The fact that five more ground balls turned into base hits is an a bit of an occupational hazard for a pitcher like Morton, though Sunday's outing was an extreme lesson.
"Those things do happen," Morton said. "I didn't think the probability was that high that it was going to keep happening. Those things do happen in baseball."
"I felt he's in the spot we anticipated him being in right now," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Second time out, three innings, 51 pitches. On the upside, nine balls were on the ground. On the other upside, 11 of 18 first-pitch strikes. On the other upside, 15 hitters put the ball in play in three pitches or less."
Maybe more important than the result is Morton continued to report no problems with his hip, which was surgically repaired during the offseason. It was his second outing of the spring and good physical reports are only bettered by Morton getting closer and closer mentally to the starter everyone saw on the mound in 2011.
"The hip is fine," Morton said. "It's getting there. I'm learning to let go of the idea that I had surgery and I'm coming back off of surgery and protecting it subconsciously. I'm not out there worrying about my hip. I'm just letting go, letting the ball fly the way I can throw it, just getting up there and competing."
Lincoln throws three scoreless innings in 'B' game
FORT MYERS, Fla. - A group of Pirates hopped on a bus early Sunday morning to play in a "B" game against the Twins, with Brad Lincoln being the star attraction.
It was the first action for the right-hander since March 7, as Lincoln had his last scheduled outing scratched because of tightness in his right calf. On Sunday, Lincoln tossed three scoreless and efficient innings, a much better result than on the 7th, when he gave up four runs on six hits in one inning against the Blue Jays.
"[It was much better] from my last outing," Lincoln said, after completing his work on one of the back fields at the Twins' facility. "My last outing was pretty shaky for me. To be able to bounce back is always a good thing for the confidence level. To just go out there, get my work in, and be ready for the next one [was good]."
Lincoln threw a total of 44 pitches against the Twins and reported no ill effects or lingering concern for the calf that temporarily sidelined him.
"I didn't miss that much. I think it was five days, I missed a rotation, but I feel good," Lincoln said. "I plan on making the next one. It's all better now."
Lincoln was able to effectively use all of his pitches on Sunday morning, commanding them all to his liking.
"Everything was working," Lincoln said. "I was able to attack the zone, get ahead, get strike one and be able to let my defense work for me."
Meek getting closer to regaining set-up role
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With each appearance this spring, Evan Meek puts an injury-riddled 2011 season behind him and moves a step closer to regaining his coveted eighth-inning role.
The 2010 All-Star tossed a perfect inning in back of starter Charlie Morton on Sunday against the Twins, his third straight scoreless frame after opening the spring by allowing four earned runs on five hits over 1 2/3 laborious innings.
"He's moving it forward," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're not trying to look for any huge jumps, as long as there's progress being made. He feels good. [Catcher Mike] McKenry liked the movement on the ball to the left-handed hitters. We keep getting him out there and keep helping him build up arm strength."
Meek's velocity has been down from the mid-to-upper 90s he consistently hit during that 2010 season, but no one has been overly concerned about it. He's been heating it up incrementally and Hurdle is comfortable with where he is and where he's headed.
"I think he's in a good place," Hurdle said. "We encourage him to just let it go, not to grunt and snort and slobber to get it going, but just to get out there and give himself a good effort. I think with what he went through last year, I think he's understanding of that. He needs to challenge himself, to find out where the velocity is going to go. We're not looking for 97 tomorrow, but I think it's been firming up."
Outfielder Nate McLouth fouled a pitch off of his foot during his first at-bat in the second inning of Sunday afternoon's game. After he danced around a little, he shook it off and got back in the box, striking out against Francisco Liriano. He returned to center field in the third. But the foot started bothering him, so he was removed from the game as a precaution.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. MLB.com reporter Tom Singer contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.