The Mystery Of Clint Hurdle

Before I venture into this topic let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am a fan of Clint Hurdle. I was quite excited/relieved/satisfied when the Pirates hired him as their manager.

I am a fan of Hurdle’s outgoing and engaging personality, his experience in the game as a well-respected guy and a successful coach, his ability to relate to people (notably, his players), and his nearly too-good-to-be-true upbeat and optimistic demeanor. That combination of personality traits make him a good fit for a ball club that is searching for some positivity in a world of anything but. It also makes him the direct antithesis of John Russell, but I digress.

That said, I have recently seen him as a mystery; a collection of questionable actions and decisions that don’t necessarily add up.

Some of Hurdle's in-game decisions as manager have confused (and angered) the Pirates' fanbase

If you’re a Pirates fan and plugged into the Buccos’ Twitter-sphere, on any given day you’ll see varying degrees of frustration with Hurdle’s propensity for sacrifice bunting. You’ll see the same frustration (but on a lesser scale) with Hurdle’s affinity for aggressive base-running.

It’s the collection of the two I find particularly disturbing. In the best interest of scoring runs, I find it hard to believe a conservative hitting approach that gives away outs, plus an aggressive base-running approach that risks giving away outs could possibly result in a higher run-scoring total for a team that struggled to score runs previously.

The more glaring decision that stunned me came Monday during the Pirates’ loss to the Nationals in Washington. Hurdle brought in reliever Jose Ascanio in a 2-2 game with one out in the seventh inning and a runner on first. Ascanio’s first pitch was crushed by Danny Espinosa for what would be the game-deciding home run.

What’s curious about this scenario is that Hurdle specifically said the day Ascanio was activated off the disabled list and put on the 25-man roster that he would slowly bring Ascanio along and keep him out of high-leverage situations. When the specific question of inserting him in a tie game was raised, Hurdle said he wouldn’t put him in that kind of situation.

Having been there in person to hear what Hurdle said during that pre-game meeting, imagine my surprise to read that in the box score after missing the game on TV.

I guess my point is that given the results we’ve seen so far from some of the decisions he’s made, I believe Hurdle is a much smarter baseball guy than we’ve seen from him in recent days. Perhaps the failure to see that in the results are what befuddles me.

Other views from the cheap seats:

  • Given there is no clear-cut #1 prospect in this year’s Major League Baseball entry draft, I get the feeling regardless of whom the Pirates select: Rice 3B Anthony Rendon, UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole, Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen, or any other name, there will be a contingent of people in Pittsburgh who won’t be happy. So if I’m Neal Huntington or scouting director Greg Smith, I make my decision as if nobody’s paying attention. In fact, perhaps the team should take that approach in a lot of situations. Between top prospect Tony Sanchez signing off Twitter and problems with a local bar’s promotion, clearly they have their share of problems that really wouldn’t be problems if they just learned to ignore outside noise from time to time.
  • Dirk Nowitzki’s 48-point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was one of the most outstanding postseason scoring exhibitions we’ve seen in a while, Larry Bird-esque even. Throw out his perfect 24-for-24 shooting from the free throw line and 12-for-15 field goal shooting is still quite impressive. But to square up for a combined 39 shots over the course of the game and miss only three times… wow. This is the type of game that many people think Dirk is capable of on a nightly basis, I being one of them. But we’ve also been waiting for a long time to see him do it consistently during the postseason. As a guy who has hashed out a healthy share of criticism for the big guy, I hope he can continue to carry his team in this vein and shed the “soft” tag that has been placed on him for quite some time.
  • At a celebrity golf outing last week I had the chance to interview former Steelers’ kicker Matt Bahr, who played for six different NFL teams over a 17-year span. When asked his opinion on what a solution to the current NFL lockout should be, Bahr said, “Get out on the field. Play the game. That’s my take on the situation.” And he walked away.
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