DENVER -- The team Pittsburgh is racing on the National League Central track just lost one of its main pistons. But Pirates players are hardly bolstered by the injury to Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto, who on Tuesday underwent left-knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus ligament.

Andrew McCutchen, Votto's peer as the Bucs' Most Valuable Player candidate, had a healthy reaction when asked how the loss could boost the Pirates' chances.

"Does that mean that if he isn't hurt, we don't have a chance?" McCutchen said, grinning. "I hate for a star player to go down, but they still have a good group of guys who can still get the job done. They'll still be a tough team to beat. Having one guy out of their lineup doesn't really make it that much easier for us."

Votto's recovery is expected to take a minimum of three weeks, ruling out his availability for the next series between the teams, on Aug. 3-5 in Cincinnati. Votto hit .375 in the season's first nine Pirates-Reds meetings, and is a lifetime .322 hitter against the Bucs' current pitchers.

"You're talking about one of the best players in the league," Neil Walker said. "As much as you hate to see anybody go down, it is what it is -- there's gonna be injuries. It's the same as if Andrew were to go down ... it'd certainly be a lot tougher on us."

Manager Clint Hurdle was caught off-guard by the Votto news.

"I heard about it just five minutes ago," Hurdle said a couple hours prior to first pitch against the Rockies. "I hate to see people get hurt. It's nothing that you have joy for. But it's part of the game -- you never know what's around the corner for anybody's team -- and you move on. They'll deal with it and move forward."

Even in loss, Bucs display never-quit attitude

DENVER -- The 1983 Chicago White Sox claimed the American League West title by making sloppy play somehow always come out right, thus inventing the concept of "winning ugly."

Did the Pirates on Monday night coin the phrase "losing pretty?"

After all, minutes before Dexter Fowler's walk-off sacrifice fly gave the Rockies a 5-4 win in Coors Field, Pedro Alvarez had delivered the most dramatic homer imaginable to pull the Bucs into a 4-4 tie.

Alvarez teed off on southpaw Rex Brothers' first pitch following a 52-minute rain delay with two on and one out in the top of the ninth.

"The big moment doesn't always have to be tied to a win," manager Clint Hurdle said the day after. "Not only was the team up, it does something for Pedro, too, something tangible to put in his back pocket to carry forward. We'd have liked the win, no doubt, but finding ways to make good things happen also counts."

"One of the most weird games I have ever been a part of, with all the rain and all the crazy plays," said Andrew McCutchen, who along with Neil Walker had singled an hour ahead of Alvarez's clout. "We were just scraping to find something, then after the delay they go to a lefty-on-lefty matchup that didn't seem in Pedro's favor.

"Then he hits a 98-mile fastball middle-away 10 rows deep. I mean, one crazy game. We lost it, but it shows we're never going to give up, we'll keep fighting regardless, we'll be grinding, trying to get the job done any way we can."

Marte improving in all phases of his game

DENVER -- Amid all the buzz about Starling Marte, one question has been relatively ignored: Is he ready for the Major Leagues and, if not, for what are Pirates talent evaluators still waiting?

Two weeks prior to the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, Marte's destination is a hot topic. The Pittsburgh outfield? Arizona, in a trade for Justin Upton? Victory Field, for the rest of the Indianapolis Indians' Triple-A season?

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Tuesday gave a succinct update on Marte's progress, and how close it has brought him to a big-league debut.

"He's improving on all the things we asked him to work on: Walks-strikeouts numbers, chase-swinging, being aggressive on the bases, stealing bases, getting good leads, putting the ball on the ground," Hurdle said.

A natural center fielder, a job not available in Pittsburgh, Marte's biggest remaining project is finding the same level of comfort in the corners of the outfield.

"We did see him struggle in right field in Spring Training," Hurdle reminded. "We want to get him some more games in the corners. He profiles for the big left field in PNC Park, and his arm will play in right field.

"We also want to make sure we assess the talent we have here, that we don't miss on things going on right now. We'll try to figure it out one day at a time."

After a slow start to his first Triple-A season, Marte's bat has burned through the International League. He is hitting .291 and his 101 hits include 41 for extra bases, a very interesting mix of 17 doubles, 13 triples and 11 home runs.

The biggest red flag for the Pirates still could be Marte's baserunning smarts. When he arrives, the Bucs will want to turn his speed into a major tool, but having been caught 12 times in 30 stolen base attempts means that he may still have work to do in that regard.

Last word

"I always want to go as deep as I can, regardless of the situation. I don't want to wear out my bullpen. I don't feel like they should be responsible for covering innings when I don't do well."
-- Jeff Karstens, who has gone seven-plus innings in each of his last three starts, including Monday, even after he'd allowed four runs in the fifth.

Worth noting

• Monday's loss was only the Pirates' second of the season in walk-off fashion, a testament to their deep and strong bullpen. The first was more than three months ago, a 5-4 loss on April 14 to the Giants in AT&T Park.

• Least surprising about Pedro Alvarez's post-rain game-tying homer Monday night was that it came on the first pitch to him. When he puts the first pitch in play this season, Alvarez is batting .350, with three homers and 14 RBIs in 40 at-bats. Think that's impressive? The lifetime .229 hitter has a career average of .389 on first pitches.

• The homer by Alvarez was also the Pirates' 59th in 46 road games. All last season, the Bucs totaled 58 road homers in 81 games.

• Drew Sutton's fifth-inning RBI single was his first hit in 14 at-bats.

• Neil Walker, batting .485 (32-for-66) during his 17-game hitting streak, is one game shy of his career-best hitting streak, set in 2010.