Marte nearing return to Bucs' starting lineup

Marte nearing return to Bucs' starting lineup

Marte nearing return to Bucs' starting lineup

SAN FRANCISCO -- Starling Marte still wasn't fit to rejoin the Pirates' lineup Thursday night -- but he definitely isn't unfit enough to go on the disabled list.

Marte missed a fourth straight start, while making incremental progress with his bruised right hand. Gripping and swinging a bat apparently is the last remaining stage.

"He's getting closer. He's right on the edge of coming back," said manager Clint Hurdle. "His throwing has improved, and the bat is getting closer. We could use him off the bench [Thursday night against the Giants]. He definitely can pinch-run and play defense."

Jose Tabata, himself sidelined Wednesday with a touch of tendinitis in his left knee, played left and batted leadoff against San Francisco right-hander Matt Cain.

In the first three starts missed by Marte -- whose 133 hits from the leadoff spot lead the National League -- three different players in the one-hole had combined to go 1-for-11 and score one run.

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.