PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates showed their faith in Jose Tabata a little more than two years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $15 million contract extension.
The outfielder hasn't exactly reciprocated.
Tabata hit just .243 with three home runs in 103 games last season, spending six weeks at Triple-A Indianapolis. He has been better this year with a .270 batting average and four homers in 82 games entering Thursday, though those still aren't the numbers the Pirates thought they would be getting for their money.
If the 25-year-old Tabata is ever going to step his game up a notch, now would be a really good time.
Left fielder Starling Marte is on the disabled list with a badly bruised left hand, and there is fear he may not play again during the regular season. Thus, the Pirates are counting on Tabata being both their left fielder and leadoff hitter while they are locked with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in a tight National League Central race.
"He knows the spark he can create up there," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a different kind of spark than Marte. We don't have anybody who can recreate that."
Marte brings a blend of power and speed that not many leadoff hitters possess. In his first full major league season, he is hitting .282 with 25 doubles, 10 triples, 11 home runs and 35 stolen bases in 118 games.
No structural damage was found when Marte was examined by hand specialist Thomas Graham on Tuesday at the Cleveland Clinic. However, Marte won't be back in 15 days like the Pirates had hoped when they placed him on the disabled list retroactive to Aug. 19.
"It's a contusion with some inflammation and a sprain," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "He needs time for the swelling to go down and for the sprain to heal. His timetable is contingent on how quickly the swelling goes down, and the ligament in there can heal. With the swelling and the pain, he can't grip a bat."