ARLINGTON -- The Pirates' performance has surprised people in all walks -- Las Vegas' preseason over-under on their wins total was 76 and they're at 82 with 19 games to go -- and no one more pleasantly than one of their own.
When catcher Russell Martin pulled his own surprise by signing as a free agent with a franchise weighed down by 20 consecutive losing seasons, he was candid in saying he did it to "improve myself, because I can play much better, and go at [free agency] again in a couple of years."
That made him sound a lot like the players who years ago picked Pittsburgh because, in general manager Neal Huntington's words, "they felt they could reestablish themselves here, then move on."
In that context, then, is Martin blown away by the Bucs moving closer to taking him back into the postseason?
"I don't know if you can call it surprised ... grateful and happy, for sure," Martin said. "I knew there was a lot of talent on this team, I just didn't know how much talent. In Spring Training, I found out we had a lot of deep pitching talent.
"The surprising thing is how well we've played defensively behind our pitching. And I'm definitely happy we got over that [losing seasons] hump. The goal always is to get to the postseason," added Martin, who has participated in four of the last five playoffs with the Dodgers (2008-09) and the Yankees (2011-12). "That's when baseball really becomes fun."
Morton penciled in to start Friday, will test foot first
ARLINGTON -- Clint Hurdle has Charlie Morton in his rotation for the Pirates' next series -- the right-hander is penciled in to face the Cubs on Friday at PNC Park -- because "I can't eliminate him."
Only Morton himself can do that -- or, change the pencil to ink -- by how the plantar fasciitis in his left foot comes through a bullpen session Wednesday.
Morton was back with the team Tuesday following a detour to Pittsburgh for an examination of the injury that had forced him out early from Sunday's game.
"The doctor looked at me and said, 'You can go.' From the diagnosis, it's not going to get any worse," Morton said. "It's a comfort issue. I'll throw off the mound [Wednesday] to make sure."
Morton kept his arm limber by playing flat-ground catch in Rangers Ballpark's outfield, but the key test will be his bullpen session.
"I need to see him get on the mound and make pitches. He wants to pitch -- who wouldn't, at this point of the season? We'll see where it goes," said Hurdle, whose primary backup option appears to be Brandon Cumpton.
While acknowledging this is an issue with which he has dealt before, Morton said, "I prefer not going into more detail."
He had felt "something abnormal" when running to cover home plate after uncorking a wild pitch in Sunday's game against the Cardinals.
John Buck, his catcher that day, had said Morton reported having "felt something pop."
"I'm sure a lot of guys deal with irritation in that area [the heel and sole of the foot]. This is a little different," Morton said. "It doesn't feel great. I just have to make do. The thing I have to watch for is not changing my throwing mechanics because of it."
First number, last word
1-0: Final score of five Pirates wins, the most in the Majors and a club high since 1958, when the Bucs also won five times by the minimal score. The club record is six, in 1917, and the 1918-19 staffs also had five.
"Did you see that big ol' oven mitt he was wearing, like my Mama made me put on when she needed help with the cookies? I don't think he can hurt it again. You can run over it with a car now." -- Hurdle, on the oversized glove worn by Starling Marte to protect his bruised right hand when he entered Monday's game as a pinch-runner
• In his Monday night gem, Gerrit Cole was the first Pittsburgh rookie in 30 years to not allow a run while striking out at least nine batters. The last to do it was Jose DeLeon, who fanned 13 in a two-hit shutout of the Reds on Aug. 20, 1983.
• The Bucs have allowed no more than four hits in 11 of their 16 shutouts -- a club live-ball era (post-1916) record, topping the 10 in 1965.
• Justin Morneau sat out his first start since being dealt to the Pirates on Aug. 31. Texas' left-handed starter (Martin Perez ) was one reason. Another could have been Morneau's 1-for-16 slump.
• The "first step" of getting Marte (bruised right hand) back in the flow was his pinch-running appearance Monday night. His defensive return could soon follow, as Marte can "throw with distance and accuracy," Hurdle said.
The bat work is a slower process. Marte did take some early batting practice Tuesday, and later took some swings in the indoor cage.
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.