The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Pro

February 14, 2013

Pirates trying to shape team for a better season

BRADENTON, Fla. — Clint Hurdle no longer digs his cleats in the dirt. That’s a thrill he believes should be reserved for players. Besides, the Pittsburgh Pirates manager has too much on his mind these days to fool around in the batter’s box to take a few hacks.

Hurdle has six weeks to turn the group of 61 players who will be on the field in Pirates City this weekend into a 25-man club by April 1. He has to find a fifth starter. He has to figure out what his bullpen will look like and who will flank All-Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen.

Oh, and then there’s the pesky little business of trying to figure out how to turn around – for good – the fortunes of a franchise that has gone two decades since playing meaningful games in October.

The Pirates flirted with success last season. More than flirty actually. From mid-June to mid-August they were arguably one of the best teams in baseball. They soared to 16 games over .500 and appeared to be a legitimate threat to Cincinnati for the NL Central title.

Then the bottom fell out. Pittsburgh plunged to a 79-83 finish. And Hurdle, who is entering the final season of his three-year deal, knows it can’t happen again.

“These men want more and they know if you want more you’ve got to do more and that comes down to getting better every day, to create a mindset where you’re going to improve as the season goes on,” Hurdle said.

Something that didn’t happen as August turned into September. Yet Hurdle believes the Pirates are ready to take the elusive step to respectability.

“My feeling is that these men are definitely committed to winning,” he said. “You look around to our core players ... we’re all in.”

Hurdle’s task over the next few weeks is filling in the gaps.

While the front end of the rotation is set and the Pirates appear to be strong up the middle with new catcher Russell Martin, healthy second baseman Neil Walker and McCutchen, things on the fringe appear to be murkier.

The revamped bullpen will undergo a massive makeover. Set-up man Jason Grilli will try to prove his 36-year-old right arm is healthy enough to close for the first time in his nomadic career. The back of the rotation is deep but in flux. The fifth spot should eventually go to lefthander Francisco Liriano whenever he recovers from a broken right arm. Until then Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jeanmar Gomez and non-roster invitee Jonathan Sanchez could all get a shot.

Then again, they may merely be placeholders for Liriano, Charlie Morton – who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and should be back by June – and former No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole.

Cole will spend some time with the big club during camp but is expected to start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. How long he stays there, however, is unclear. If he can duplicate his impressive 2012 in which he rose from the Single A Florida State League to Triple-A in a few short months, the burly right-hander could be in Pittsburgh by July 4.

Then there’s the outfield, where Starling Marte and Travis Snider appear to have the first crack at starting alongside McCutchen but should be pushed by Alex Presley and a healthy Jose Tabata, who has struggled since signing a contract extension in 2011.

That’s a lot to chew on, though Hurdle is hardly complaining. The Pirates have the kind of potential depth this spring that would have served them well last autumn, when the rotation broke down and things started to fall apart.

It may take awhile for things to shake out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After two straight seasons of hot starts followed by abysmal finishes, the Pirates are OK if they need some time to get a sense of themselves.

“We’ve got to control the grind which is one of the biggest challenge of all sports,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes you can get caught up in the vacuum of the season where the grind can overwhelm you.”

Whatever it was, Pittsburgh was overwhelmed late in 2012. It was a difficult but necessary process.

“We have the lessons that have been learned that have been meaningful,” Hurdle said. “I think we very honestly self-evaluated.”

Notes: The Pirates expect to have all but two players on the field for Friday’s workout. Newly acquired infielder Brandon Inge should arrive in camp on Friday after traveling from his home in Michigan. Right-handed pitcher Stolmy Pimentel remains in the Dominican Republic due to visa issues but is expected to be in Bradenton by the weekend.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Pro
  • Pirates 0417 Pirates power past Brewers

    Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
    Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0417 Jackets preparing for Game 2

    The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
    “It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0416 Penguins rally to wear out Jackets

    Brandon Sutter scored on a wrist shot from the left circle 8:18 into the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins rally for a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
    Beau Bennett and Matt Niskanen scored power-play goals 45 seconds apart in the second period, erasing Pittsburgh’s two-goal deficit.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shelley and McElligot Series serves as reunion for former Chiefs personnel

    Not so long ago, Bob McElligott, like most Western Pennsylvania hockey fans, would savor a long Pittsburgh Penguins playoff run.
    The Somerset native followed the Pens’ Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1991 and 1992.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malkin nearing return

    The Columbus Blue Jackets are the closest NHL team to the Pittsburgh Penguins, at least geographically. The two franchises are separated by 185 miles of highway.

    April 15, 2014

  • Reds swing way past Pirates

    Mike Leake doubled and hit a two-run homer Tuesday night, ending Gerrit Cole's winning streak and leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 7-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that completed two days full of homers and delays.
    First, the NL Central rivals completed a game that was suspended in the sixth inning because of rain the previous night.

    April 15, 2014

  • Pirates Game 1 0415 Pirates edge out Reds in suspended game

    After all those home runs and an overnight delay, it was settled by a single.
    Andrew McCutchen doubled and came around on Russell Martin’s single in the seventh inning on Tuesday, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates an 8-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the completion of a game that spanned two days and 10 home runs.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0414 Pressure on Penguins to capture Cup

    The statistics are gaudy.
    And if the Pittsburgh Penguins can’t find a way to extend their season into the final days of spring, ultimately forgettable.
    The same team that led the NHL in man games lost due to injury (more than 500) also earned 109 points, led the Metropolitan Division from mid-October on and received another peerless effort from star Sidney Crosby, who topped the league with 104 points and is a near lock for the second MVP award of his career.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

Poll

Do you think that Jack Williams will get the 270 signatures from city residents needed in order to have a referendum placed on a municipal ballot to have the city's pressure test mandate repealed?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads