Day 3: Hurdle speaks



NASHVILLE — Highlights of manager Clint Hurdle’s Q&A session this afternoon at the winter meetings:

= Considering the players currently at your disposal, who would you like at the top of the order? “I’m not even going to go there right now because that’ll get printed as here’s who we’re leading off. I don’t know right now. I’ve got some thoughts. I’ve got some thoughts on who I’d like to hit second, too. When you look at our personnel, you definitely want people up there that can move. It’s not so much the standard as it used to be. How many prototypical lead-off men are in the game right now? There’s probably a handful of guys that played in the ’80s or ’90s that you’re looking to lead off, guys that are actually in the game right now. But a man that can get on base, can score runs, the second guy used to be a guy that could handle the bat. Now it’s maybe a guy that can walk, handle the bat, stretch out an at-bat and a guy that needs to get on base. Our challenge is for all our men to show improvement all along those lines, better quality at-bats. We had a 3-hole hitter (McCutchen) who, even with the season he had, he still didn’t drive in 100 runs. You would have liked to think there would have been more opportunities there for him. We’ve got to find ways to get those two spots more often. I think there are some names we’re considering. I know there’s some names I’m considering, but we’ll see how it plays out.”

= How do you look at the finishes the last two seasons, and how do you contend longer next season and not have those collapses early? “As silly as it sounds, we’ve just got to play good, solid baseball. We’ve got to sustain momentum. I think some of it does come with experience. I think some of it comes with guys being in situations they’ve never been in before, not all our men but enough of our men to develop an attitude where we’re just going to work to get better every day. We can finish the season stronger, not just finish the season but to finish it stronger, improvement every day. I thought they had a much better understanding going into this season about the 162-game schedule. We’ve got to taste that again. It’s a hard season. It’s a long season. You’ve got to be a good club to win your division. You’ve got to be a good club to work your way into a wild card opportunity. We weren’t good enough. I think the sting of not being good enough and knowing where we were at one point in time, that we are good enough to play good baseball. It’s up to each man to find out how they can improve, whether it be mentally, whether it be physically, whether it be mechanically or fundamentally to sustain the success that we did show through 120 games.”

= When you won that (19-inning game) in St. Louis, did you think it might be a stepping off point? “I thought it was maybe another mile marker along the road of something significant. But I’ll tell you when I felt the best was after we beat the Cardinals at home in back-to-back games. We played arguably as good a baseball game as we’ve ever played in 24 hours. I thought that might jump start something. But the beauty of our game is you don’t win it on paper. You’ve got to go play every night, and I think that can get lost in translation, the importance of playing every night, showing up in a consistent way every night and not carrying baggage from the loss the day before, or sometimes that has collateral damage. And I think our guys are getting opportunities to learn how to let things go, move on, the importance of doing that versus what can happen if you do hold on to some things.”

= Has there been any discussion about having an assistant hitting coach? “Yes, there has, meaningful discussion. It’s definitely (a possibility), because coach (Mark) Strittmatter went to Colorado. He took a revolving coordinator job with the Rockies for a number of different reasons. So we’re going to have an opportunity to fill that position.”

= Do you feel a need to add pitchers from the outside the organization? “You know, I wouldn’t say … well, need? Yeah, everybody needs another pitcher. Externally, you say, you’re talking about getting an experienced guy because you don’t have those guys within your system. We have young men that are going to grow up and look for opportunities, whether it’s the two men we brought up at the beginning of the season or someone else that’s on the cusp. But we have had those discussions, as well, and we’re working our way through a lot of different branches. The biggest branch was cut a little less than a week ago. If we’re able to acquire a catcher, first critical point, we’re going to go this way. If we didn’t get Russ Martin, we’re going to go this way. So we’re following a different avenue now that Russ is with us and a part of our organization. We understand the depth and the importance of pitching; everybody does. And experienced pitching can also have a tremendous benefit. It’s tough to break in two young starters. Sometimes that’s what you need to do. That can be a challenge.”

= You’re referring to Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke? “Absolutely, those two guys we’re talking about, yeah.”

= Can you talk about James McDonald’s second half and how that impacts your thinking about next season? “Well, I think obviously if he would have had a second half like the first half, he’d be a lockdown probably No. 3 guy in your rotation. I do think we saw enough good … I love the way, the challenge that can be presented, and we do work in an industry and sometimes in society when something doesn’t go right, I think we have more fear of being wrong. We talked about this earlier today, gosh, is he a first half guy or a second half guy? I’m thinking he’s a first half guy or somebody in between. I think the experience is going to help him. There’s probably not the confidence level that he’s got going in that he had in the first half going into the beginning of it. But the beauty of our game, it’s a brand new start. We’re going to accentuate the positives. He’s continued to see the good stuff, why it went on, how it went on, the challenges that came in the second half, what was learned by them. I still have a good feeling about James McDonald. And what I don’t believe people put enough resolve into or thought into, this is a converted guy. This guy hasn’t been pitching since he was six. It was the first time he had a large amount of success bundled in a half of a season. I think that was a new experience for him, as well.”

= If, for whatever reason, Joel Hanrahan was no longer a Pirate next season, do you feel there are people you have at your disposal who can handle that late game role, the back end of the game? “Yes. Everybody thinks that you’ve got to have a guy that’s done it. There’s a bunch of guys that never did it until they got their first opportunity. You’d like to have somebody in waiting, but sometimes you don’t know who a guy is going to be. Grilli really never had the opportunity to pitch in the eighth inning last year, he’s been moved upon that. I can remember … I wasn’t in the organization, but when Joel first came over there was a large volume of people that never thought this man would be anything close to a major league credible closer. He’s put together two very successful seasons. He’s established himself in a very good place there. For me, it’s as much about opportunity, it’s not so much about having a bona fide guy. We’ve got big arms, I think, that play swing and miss stuff, eight guys better leverage situations and ground ball situations. So I think we have those guys available to us.”

= This is the first offseason that we haven’t been writing offseason stories or hearing talk on the radio about Pedro Alvarez. Is that pretty much what he needs, kind of a distraction-free winter? “I think it’s a benefit for anybody. And he deserves a lot of credit for there to be a lot of that talk has dissipated and gone away for a number of reasons. Number one, the level of play. Is he always going to be a lightning rod with some spikes up and some spikes down? I think that’s going to play out for a while as he matures as a hitter, but he’s always going to be electric and a player at the plate. He got into that role this year. He wants to be a third baseman. He works very hard at that. We’ll see how that continues to play out. But I do think he’s in the most comfortable place he’s ever been in professionally and especially since he’s been in a Pirate uniform.”

= Where is Neil Walker in terms of his injury? “He’s done with all the medical recovery and activity and therapy. He’s finished with all that and actually started his strength and conditioning program within the last two weeks. Probably two weeks ago, I had lunch with him while he was geared up for that. He’s in a very good place, very good place, ready to go.”