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After putting together a breakout season in 2016, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte eight days ago was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.
When one of the game's emerging stars tries to cheat the system, it's a blow to that player and his team. But it does not shake commissioner Rob Manfred's faith in MLB's drug-testing program.
"I do not see it as a program failure that we have positive tests," Manfred said Tuesday. "I doubt we will ever get to the point where any sport can say with 100 percent certainty that no athlete is using a performance-enhancing drug. Occasionally, athletes are going to make a bad decision. We have a program in place that is the best at catching them if they make that decision."
Manfred said Marte did not appeal his 80-game suspension, which was announced April 18.
According to MLB, there were 8,281 drug tests conducted on major leaguers last year. Fifteen players were disciplined.
Under a new collective bargaining agreement, the number of tests this year will increase to nearly 12,000.
In the wake of Marte's suspension, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said MLB isn't testing often enough. Rizzo, like former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, wonders if the process' random nature results in an uneven distribution of tests.
In 2015, Ortiz claimed in a story for The Players' Tribune that he was tested nearly 80 times since 2004.
"Anthony Rizzo is certainly entitled to have whatever opinion he wants," Manfred said. "But to criticize the program based on the random experience of one player over a very short period of time is probably not the best form of criticism. Our athletes are tested more frequently than any athlete in any professional sport. I am really confident in the strength of the program."
Manfred stopped by PNC Park on Tuesday to promote MLB's "Play Ball" youth baseball initiative.Â
"It is crucial that we get kids playing our game," Manfred said. "The single biggest determinant of whether somebody is going to be a baseball fan as an adult is whether they played as a kid."
Other topics Manfred addressed included:
MLB is "monitoring" Jung Ho Kang's situation in South Korea, where the third baseman is awaiting a work visa that will allow him to rejoin the Pirates. In March, Kang got a suspended sentence after his third drunk-driving conviction.
"We have not been actively involved other than giving advice," Manfred said. "That's what we ordinarily do, with respect to immigration matters. That's generally handled by the club. They're in a position to do that more effectively than we are."
Steps taken to improve competitive balance by former commissioner Bud Selig led to stability among the 30 big league owners, Manfred said.
"It also has produced financial stability, if not profitability," Manfred said. "Most of our owners are in this game for the competitive side of the game. The fact that they believe they have a chance to win encourages them to stay in and hope their number is going to come up."
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said MLB has taken care to approve owners who have a passion for the game.
"It's a group that is stable, is compatible and is generally very pleased with the direction that Rob is taking the game," Nutting said. "He has been very connected to and has been a great friend of the Pittsburgh Pirates."
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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