By John Franco
I haven’t been overly critical of Clint Hurdle here at PittPlank. I know that he leaves some things to be desired when it comes to in-game management, but his ability to maintain a positive clubhouse, and his positive influence on some of the Pirates’ hitters, have usually outweighed his deficiencies. Not last night.
I’m not in the Pirates’ clubhouse, so I don’t know if they’ve given up. I don’t know if Hurdle’s positive attitude has gotten stale, or he hasn’t been able to keep the team focused on the positive during this awful stretch (9-21 in their last 30 games). But after last night, even if you could find a Clint Hurdle apologist, even they would say that his loyalty to “veteran” players and his inability to manage his in-game roster is costing the Pirates wins. For example:
Total innings pitched by Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, and Bryan Morris in last night’s 14-inning loss to the Reds: 0
Total innings pitched by Rick VandenHurk: 0.2 (and then he lost the game)
I don’t know if you can blame Neal Huntington for anything that happened last night, unless you simply want to blame him for Hurdle’s continued presence in the dugout. He’s given Hurdle fresh, talented arms in the bullpen – the aforementioned McPherson, Wilson and Morris – and Hurdle didn’t use them when it mattered most. I’ve got nothing against VandenHurk personally, but I don’t think an objective observer would have picked him as the best choice to pitch the 14th inning.
Another example? Dejan Kovacevic covers the Chase d’Arnaud incident pretty well: Hurdle pinch ran for Garrett Jones (the Pirates’ best hitter) in the 10th inning, when Jones wasn’t even the lead runner. I guess Hurdle was worried that Pedro Alvarez might ground into a double play, and hoped that d’Arnaud would help avoid that? Alvarez grounds into a double play 1.81 times every 100 plate appearances. What percentage of DP’s would d’Arnaud avoid that Jones wouldn’t? Maybe 10 percent? I can’t understand losing your best hitter to prevent something that might happen 2 times out of 1000.
One more example? Wandy Rodriguez was pulled after just 89 pitches and a pair of soft 2-out singles. Jared Hughes promptly gave up a game-tying double to Dioner Navarro. That doesn’t fit with Hurdle’s “I love veterans” approach, but it also didn’t make any sense. Hurdle said after the game that he would have hated to see Rodriguez give up a 3-run homer. Well, so would everyone else, but Navarro has a career .357 slugging percentage. Isn’t Hurdle supposed to be a players’ manager? Judging by Rodriguez’ reaction, he clearly wanted to stay in the game.
One final example? Rod Barajas batting averages by month: .143, .302, .190, .149, and .185 in August. Yet Hurdle continues to play him. I know that Michael McKenry hit just .237 in August and is clearly struggling, but he has to be a better option than Barajas right now.
I know Hurdle isn’t likely to be fired during the season. I know he’ll probably take the blame (and the fall) if the Pirates finish below .500 for the season. I have no idea who the Pirates could bring in that might do a better job (now or later). All I know is that the final hurdle to a .500 season might be a Hurdle they can’t overcome.