Clint Hurdle Q&A part 1

Clint Hurdle

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle spoke with the media at baseball's winter meetings. Here is part one of the Q&A session.

Q. Imitation is a form of flattery in baseball. It's pretty common. What the Giants did last year, they had a lineup that could hit some long balls but basically they were a team that predicated on manufacturing runs. Do you think that's going to be an influence game-wide, that teams might look at putting their lineups together differently?

Clint Hurdle: Well, I think it's been happening. I think there's much more attention to on base percentage, more focus on stretching out at bats, connecting the dots on offense. And I think you look at the Giants' surge, and it's a very good team that caught fire with Pagan and Scutaro the last two months in the season as good as any 1-2 tandem in all of baseball. One of the areas that we've got to be more proficient is the top of our order. There were some challenges for us there last season, so we've got to find personnel that can fit the kind of criteria we're looking for to fill those spots. As an industry, yeah, we try and keep an eye on who's doing well, and I think that's been going on, and it's talked about now more than ever.

Q. An ideal situation with the players you currently have at your disposal, who would you like at the top of the order?

CLINT HURDLE: I'm not even going to go there right now because that'll get printed with 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. 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 offensively is for all our men to show improvement all along those lines, better quality at bats. We had a 3-hole hitter that with the season he still didn't drive in 100 runs. I think he drove in 95 runs all said and done. 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.

Q. You said the past couple years you talked about being more of a premium on the stolen base, having more success there. It really hasn't translated yet on the field. Last season your stolen base success rate was one of the lowest in the league. What can you do to drive that up?

CLINT HURDLE: The most important part is the mentality, and we took strides forward from the 2010 season that the Pirates had in '11. We stole more bases. We stole over 100 bases. We backtracked last year. We trimmed it down dramatically. We were caught stealing the same amount of times in '12 that we were in '11, but with a reduced number of bats. It's the mentality first and foremost. They call it a stolen base for a reason. You're taking something that's not yours, and you've got to have that mentality. We've got to help our guys find their way there, then we have to -- we're going to implement some new ideas in Spring Training to increase the reps, increase the focus, and to recreate as much as we can the game type situation as far as them working to get better and working to get cleaner breaks when they do decide to go.

Q. You guys did have some success in home runs. When the power goes up, does the work on the bases?

CLINT HURDLE: I think it can. Guys, once they're hitting the ball, they don't feel the necessity maybe looking for those opportunities, or sometimes you hit the ball right before a guy was planning on running. The combination that you're looking for is being able to score runs when you have to, and sometimes that home run is not in play, so that's when you go back to the speed. There's certain pitchers that don't give up a lot of home runs. You can't count on hitting home runs against those guys. They can work hand in hand. But again, one of our pluses on offense last year, we did show an increased ability to drive the baseball from both sides of the plate, and then to the big part of the field, as well. It wasn't all pull home runs. That's something I thought we'd have more of in '11; we didn't. It played out better this year, and I think it's something that will continue to show up and it will be a strength for us.

Q. 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?

CLINT HURDLE: 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. They truly-- I thought they had a much better understanding going into this season about the 162-game schedule. We 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.

Q. When you won that Sunday in St. Louis, did you think this might be a stepping off point for us and we can take this somewhere?

CLINT HURDLE: 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.

Q. I don't mean this facetiously, but last year the constant mantra was finish. Have you given any thought to what the buzz word might be for next season?

CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, I've given a lot of thought to it.

Q. We're not going to get it?

CLINT HURDLE: No, I don't do reality TV or reality radio. We'll come up with that in house. We've got some thoughts. One of the things I'll share is I think finish can mean different things. I think finish, it was meant to finish a play, finish an at bat, finish an inning, not just finish the season. As important as I thought that would be for us to understand, I do think they walked away-- the fact that we did not finish, we know what finish means but we've got to go define it by play, but we have given some thought to some things this year and I'm sure we'll have something for you in Spring Training.

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