CINCINNATI -- Pittsburgh leadoff hitter Starling Marte got a breather Wednesday, in the wake of his second straight three-strikeout game.
Jose Tabata moved into left field and into the leadoff spot for the afternoon series finale against the Reds. When Tabata was injured running into the wall on a catch in the fifth inning of a 4-0 loss to Cincinnati, Marte entered the game.
"I don't know if he's trying too hard, or if the swing is disconnected," manager Clint Hurdle said of Marte before the game. "But the swing doesn't look right to me."
The biggest problem with the swing is that it has been missing too many pitches. Marte has had a strange road trip, batting .389 (7-for-18) when making contact. But he has missed contact 16 times, bringing his season strikeout total to 24 in 60 at-bats.
He fanned three times in each of the first two games of this series, giving him four games with three strikeouts in the 14-game-old season.
"I just think he needs a day off to rest himself mentally," Hurdle said before the game. "So we'll back him away from the flame. We've been too soft at the top of the order."
It was also an opportunity to give Tabata a a starting shot, although he was hitless in eight career at-bats against the Reds' starter, Johnny Cueto. On Wednesday, Tabata went 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Cueto before leaving the game. Marte was also hitless against Cueto entering Wednesday, with two strikeouts in five at-bats. Facng Cueto in the series finale, Marte went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.
Hurdle hoping to get idle Pimentel some game action
CINCINNATI -- Clint Hurdle is getting reacquainted with the expression, "Darned if you do, darned if you don't." Category: Pitching staff.
Getting more innings out of starting pitchers has been a concern for a couple of seasons, thus a target entering this one. So the burden placed on the relievers does not "catch up to them," Hurdle said.
The Bucs' rotation responded by going six-plus innings in 11 of the first 14 games. So the problem became having one key reliever with nothing to do: Entering Wednesday, Stolmy Pimentel had gotten into one game, albeit for four innings in the 16-inning extravaganza on April 2 with the Cubs. In Wednesday's 4-0 loss, Pimentel gave up one run on two hits in one inning.
"We're looking for an opportunity for him, but there hasn't been any with the length our starters have given," Hurdle said. "We've tried to pick a spot for him and haven't found it yet. We're looking hard for one now, actually hunting for something to get him out there."
Pimentel is one of two long men in the Pirates' bullpen, alongside Jeanmar Gomez, who gets first call.
"You don't want to use Stolmy and Gomez in the same game, ever," Hurdle said, "because that wipes out your long man for the next day."
There could soon be an undesirable solution: Next time a long man is needed, Pimentel could get the ball due to Gomez's ineffectiveness. Gomez has been hit hard in each of his four outings, allowing a total of 12 hits in 8 1/3 innings.
First number, last word
16: Consecutive decisions on the road for left-hander Francisco Liriano, going into his Wednesday start in Cincinnati; he had a record of 8-8 in those games.
"Hard work. Acute focus, dedication and commitment. There's something to be said for old-fashioned grit. There doesn't always have to be a formula. He just put some sweat equity into it." -- Hurdle, on switch-hitter Neil Walker's awakening on the right side, from where on Tuesday he homered for the first time since May 6, 2011
• Chris Stewart (March 19 right knee surgery) is catching Jeff Locke's Wednesday start for Triple-A Indianapolis, and Hurdle said a "plan is in place" to get him to rejoin the club.
"There's a couple of steps we still need to accomplish to get him ready to return," Hurdle said.
• Notice who is tied for second in the Majors with five home runs? None other than Walker, who entered Wednesday's game with 11 homers and 19 RBIs in his last 23 games, since last Sept. 19.
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.