Winter Meetings interview with Clint Hurdle

Q. How important is it to you at this point at the Meetings to bolster your bullpen and find some help, especially a left hander?

CLINT HURDLE: Well, as we profiled out what we thought we would try and accomplish this off season, at the top of the list was to enhance the rotation. Frankie was an obvious target for us. Then the next priority is to try and add to our bullpen. With one left hander in place right now, if we could find a fit to add another left hander, that's something we are definitely interested in doing.

Q. You might have just done so. Are you able to comment on the reports of getting Antonio Bastardo? That just happened recently?

CLINT HURDLE: I think you all know, at least you know us, that we never comment. I don't ever comment until Neil comments. I'll wait to hear from Neil for direction along those lines. We have had interest in a few left handed relievers and made some calls. I know he's been working very hard, as our scouts have, to identify the right core group. Bastardo was on the list of people we had interest in.

Q. With how things have gone so far here, do you get a sense of how the whole division is kind of making up and reshaping itself?

CLINT HURDLE: It's a good division, it's a tough division. The Cubs have been building, and they believe that they're in a very solid position to make a significant, I think, difference within the division this year. Cincinnati had to battle through a bunch of injuries last year. They have a good talent pool in which to draw from at the Major League level, and a very good starting rotation. Milwaukee showed its strength 4/5th of the way through the season. St. Louis has set the bar high and continues to find a way to bump it up, and we think we're in the right lane for the first time in a long time in our back to back postseason trips. So whether it's reshaping or not. It's a good, tough division. I'm sure every division would say that about themselves, but there is a lot of evidence in our division that there's going to be no time no games to take for granted. There never are. But this is going to be exciting to play in this division.

Q. Couple days ago Banister was sitting in that same exact seat and called you the best manager he's ever worked with. He called you a fisher of men in developing guys and dealing with guys. How have you honed that skill over these last years with the Pirates? Are you a different guy relating to the players now than maybe you were when you were with the Rockies?

CLINT HURDLE: I think there is a lot to be said for second opportunities. There is, I'm sure, a solid percentage of guys that have gotten it done really well their first try. A lot depends on where you are, who you are, what the roster is. There are a lot of different tangible, and intangible aspects that go along with that. I was fortunate in a number of ways, in fact, to manage as many games as I did at Coors Field, to be there that length of time, the volume of players and the different personalities, it was a great experience, great experience throughout, and I've always tried to continue to learn to evolve, change with the times, make adjustments when necessary. It's one thing we encourage our players to do. So hopefully I've continued to grow and I'll continue to grow. I do think I've found a better rhythm and balance in my life, which probably puts you in a better perception, and better perspective which to manage and to model the behavior you want to instill in others. Those things are important to me. Tom made me aware of some comments that Banny made, and those humble you because I have the utmost professional and personal respect for him, and I've been fortunate to learn from so many good people that have paid attention to me and invested in my career.

Q. Do you think you look like a dad sending a kid off now?

CLINT HURDLE: Jeff Banister was a good coach before I got there, it was fun in the four years. He made me better. Hopefully I was able to impact him and help him get a little bit better as well. The relationship was significant and special, and I will definitely be pulling for him. I think he's found a very good place to get his start, and he's with a very good group of people over there. I've got history with them as well, so he's got a good ballclub as well, so it should be an exciting time for him. I'll enjoy watching from afar.

Q. In past Spring Trainings you guys have gone in with a singular focus, among other things but one area you really want to improve. Have you talked about as a staff what that area might be this year?

CLINT HURDLE: We have. We're going to spend some time together this weekend at Pirate Fest. We've got about three tangible areas. We haven't decided which is going to be our number one going in. We'll wait to see how the roster fills out. But identifying challenges from last year, we definitely want to find a way to every team wants to play their best ball at the end of the season. We'd like to get out a little cleaner just fundamentally wise than we did last year. Saying that, I think the areas that we've got to make sure that we continue to remain and identify with who we are as a pitching core. There were times last year that we got away from it a little bit, and we had some challenges with personnel. But once we reset the bar, we focused on fastball command, low strikes, angle, getting people out, three pitches or less, we got back into a good rhythm. We were effective with our innings. Saying that, off the top of our heads, the one thing we have athletes that I believe can run the bases in a more dynamic fashion. We've gotten better. But the progress has been incremental. For the talent we have, I think we can make a big push forward there. That is one of the reasons why we took Nick and moved Nick to first, and put (indiscernible) from first to third, being the guy that's in charge of the base running, our feeling is right now that's definitely going to be a heightened point of awareness coming in. As odd as it might sound, our pitchers' offense continues to be a very sore spot for us. To be able to bunt the ball, to be able to swing the bat, to be able to do something from an offensive side is an area we're continuing to explore and learn how to make better improvement from what we have. There are teams that have a very big competitive advantage over us, and in the National League you play a lot of games where your pitchers hit. And I do think that the ownership part of it can make a difference. When you're in a division, you won 88 games and you lose by 2, if you break it down, there are a number of different ways where each one of these groups can win two more games or one more game. I don't think there is any doubt that our pitcher swinging the bat could win us two more games of the season. So those will be the first two that I'll share with you.

Q. The NL Central has been well represented in the playoffs. You always had a Wild Card in there. But how much does Lester make this a really cut throat division?

CLINT HURDLE: He's going to be a wonderful addition to the staff. He's been one of the elite pitchers in the game for a number of years. I actually saw him in 2007 with Colorado. It's 2014, still one of the elite pitchers in the game. So probably going to get him five times, you know. So it definitely gives them, I've got to believe, self confidence, self esteem that you've got a leader in that rotation. You've got a go to guy every fifth day. Makes them better in a lot of different ways, and not just with that, but the (indiscernible) in the back of the ballpark, but when he gets in the clubhouse. The other four days when he doesn't pitch, what he's going to be able to bring. Everybody's hungry. The Brewers are hungry. The Reds are definitely hungry. The Cubs, we know they're hungry. And the Cardinals and ourselves, I love playing in our division. It's an exciting division. It challenges you and you've got to be sharp.

Q. Do you think after all the emotion and everything that went into getting back to the playoffs that first time that maybe there was a little bit of a hangover at the start of last season that may have gone into the sluggish start you guys got off to?

CLINT HURDLE: I don't know. It's one of the things that I think every team talks about what challenges could be met after you have a big season. For ours, it was probably bigger than big. It was historical. I've heard I've shared a lot of thoughts and had a lot of thoughts shared with me from some of the players where there might be some thinking along those lines. I honor other people's opinions. But one thing we've got to maintain is if you want to become elite, you have to continue to do it. And the Cardinals are the model in our division to continue to find ways to reshape yourself, rekindle, reignite. At the end of the day, we as much as anybody should understand the value and importance of winning the division. We were on the Wild Card games both sides now. Wonderful when you win it and move on. It's really abrupt when you don't. It's really, really abrupt. So there is no time. We don't have time to have just another day at the park. And I've said this since I joined up, you'll hear that comment in this hotel if you talk to somebody throughout the hotel, how you doing. Just another day. We don't have time for just another day. Elite organizations don't have that opportunity. We've got to continue to be hungry, and I do think that's a term that might not be used enough in our industry or shared with players is the need for hunger within our game.

Q. You mentioned pitcher offense being an issue. Without changing personnel, are there ways you can improve that performance?

CLINT HURDLE: We believe so. The one challenge that we have had is a good percentage of our starting pitching has been acquired from outside our organization. Sometimes those guys are the creatures of habit, where they've been, whether they've come from the American League. Did they hit in college? What is their performance level? As we look for the guys that we've been able to raise in our organization, it's mandated throughout from top to bottom. They work the bat and they swing the bat all the way through the minor league development programs. But we've got to come up with a different set of drill routines. What we've tried hasn't given us the I don't think the gain or the improvement that we need. So we're going to try some different things with them. Last year, we went as far to send our pitchers over to our minor league facility in games and they'd rack up seven, eight bats in a day. I don't know many other organizations that have been that aggressive or tried because there is a risk factor involved when you get a guy with seven at bats in a Triple A game, couple of bunts, swing the bats, you don't know. But we felt if we need to make an improvement, how can we challenge them? Game speed. I mean, you can practice a lot and hit a lot of machines and coaches. So we'll definitely revisit that and there are a couple other angles that need to play out and trying some things differently. I think at the end of the day, we have to make sure that their commitment level, they own a lot of this, and their willingness to own it, how we get two games better.

Q. Do you think that hitting coaches work differently than pitching?

CLINT HURDLE: Ours don't. I've been a hitting coach. I didn't, other than their understanding of mechanics. Because I'll ask them, what do you know about your swing? What can you tell me about your swing? Once you understand the knowledge they have, you work within their knowledge levels and you try to stretch them from there. We've actually had the hitting coaches work with them. Jeff Banister took them one on one for situational hitting all the time for a presence to be working with them, where it's not just all practice, it's not all fun and practice. We try to put some challenges in front of them as well.

Q. You've had the same team win alternate World Series, the Giants in '10, '12 '14, this is a transparent industry. What is it about their method that they put to use?

CLINT HURDLE: Well, I'd like to take a chance on the things we picked up. We just keep them in house. Let somebody else try to figure it out as well as share all my thoughts with everybody. I couldn't be happier for Bochy, personally. I've known Bruce since I was 15 years old. I was a sophomore in high school. He was a senior. We played in the same conference. We played on the same legion team. We've played winter ball together. They do things well, and they're creative. They've been able to do it a couple of different ways. The mound presence is always common fabric. The bullpen has played out. They find a different way to get things done offensively in a very tough park that's not so much hitter friendly. They play solid defense. They're sure handed. They're dependable on the other side of the ball. All those things play in. And for my money, they've got the best manager in baseball right now, which helps. The coaching staff is tireless. It's a good organization, and how can you not give Brian a pat on the back? They've done a lot of good things in a lot of different ways for this five year run. I mean, it's stuff that you talk about dynasties.

Q. Talking about the question earlier, you start to read and see and hear comments the way Pittsburgh has done when teams are trying to rebuild or reload or lower payroll in a small market team. How does it make you feel to see the organization has reached that point and people want to mimic you?

CLINT HURDLE: We've all heard it before, imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and it's true on many different levels: societal, fashion, cars. It sounds good, but at the end of the day you can't stop. You don't rest. There are not pats on the back. I do think it's a tangible sign of success. One of the things that we've tried to be at least professional with is measuring success while I've been here. I think Neil and Frank and Bob are also a part of that. You want to find ways to continue to move the chains. Even with other people, and we're fortunate. Because over the last two years there have been a lot of people reach out and say we're happy for you. We like the way you're doing it. The players have taken ownership of it as well. It's as much about their model of their commitment and their buying in. It's now become organizational with these guys coming up, it's good to be a Pirate again. Any good organization that starts a successful journey and is able to maintain, I should say the traction and momentum throughout it, it's based on everybody just taking care of today. That's been one of our focus points. Yesterday's not a day of the week. Tomorrow is not a day of the week. The one day we can count on is today. How can we get a little bit better today? Our players, coaching staffs, scouts have all taken this to heart. It's a much better place than it was four years ago, and we've still got a lot of work to do.

Q. Is Pedro your everyday first baseman, hot streak, cold streak, lefty, righty?

CLINT HURDLE: Right now Pedro is pencilled in to play first base today, and Pedro's bat will tell us how much Pedro's going to play. And he'll be given every opportunity to earn an everyday spot at first base. And over time I think we'll know better how we need to move forward with Pedro.

Q. Do you think there is more in that path?

CLINT HURDLE: I do. I do. To see the two seasons he was able to put together, to see the way the team responds to the hot streak of our club, the five game series I continue to bring that up, the five game series against the Cardinals in the playoffs. I've watched a lot of playoff baseball, and for a guy on the losing team, that's as good a five game series per at bat, per at bat than I've seen out of a player in a long, long time. So I told this to many players, as long as you're in and you still believe, I'm right there with you. If you're out, I'm out. I don't believe Pedro's out by any means, and Pedro has a burning desire to be the best player he can be for the team and to be a great player. We're going to do everything we can to help him find his way back to a level of production that he feels he's capable of.

Q. Both you and Neil had hoped that the Division Series experience would carry over. Do you have any theories on why there is no continuity for him?

CLINT HURDLE: I don't like to talk about players' performance levels in general terms. I think that's a great question. A lot of times in this game we've got to go through challenging learning experiences to figure things out. And just because you're good in April doesn't mean you're going to be good in May. Had a big five game series in the playoffs, and you'd like to think that could provide you with the kind of confidence, but that's not the way life works. Pitch selection has a lot to do with it. Once you get those feet in the batter's box, location of pitches, you don't the hardest thing to do in the game is to hit consistently. Sometimes I've seen guys bounce back and have their greatest moments after their most challenging. That's another way to look at it.

Q. (Inaudible?)

CLINT HURDLE: We're looking forward to giving Francisco the opportunity to pick the evidence day job and run with it. Most games, neither one of these guys plays in the high 90s, I believe. I think we'll look at performance levels. I'm encouraged by the development of Stewart, because there are not many times you'll see a guy get in his prime years be a back up pitcher. So he's going to be active in that position as a C2 if that's how it falls. I don't think we would push the situation where Russell caught the bulk of the games healthy, and I don't think we'll have a similar situation. I do think we'll try to find a rep or two along down the way for Stewart, so it won't be 50 50 no matter what happens. But Francisco has shown enough skills that he has an opportunity in front of him that he's probably never really had. Our goal is to keep him on the field and to see how that offense is going to play out. By doing that, you have to give him at bats, you have to give him reps. The first at bat streak, it's not going to be time to unplug him and go in a different direction. So I'm looking forward to figuring out how we're going to work that out going forward.

Q. (Indiscernible) was lower this year. Did you see that having much of an impact on your hitters and did it have more impact on some than others?

CLINT HURDLE: I've gotten some of that information, looked at it. For a low ball hitter, I don't believe it's that impactful at all. We've got a handful of those. For a high ball hitter, it's one ball below where the last strike zone was or half a ball. So for me the difference might have played out, I can't say it affected any individual of our guys more than others. I think we're all pretty much aware that we're halfway through and maybe the strike zone had dropped a little bit. I will say this though to be a little proactive, that I believe you're going to see more pitching up top than you've seen before based on what you saw from Bumgarner in the playoffs. So I'd be surprised if the strike zone drops even lower next year.

Q. Talked to Jordy, and he thought the thing that turned it around for him (indiscernible) to shift them out, and shift them down in and worked it out there away from us, you know, (indiscernible) and that's his problem and that helped him turn around. How tempting was it to not stick with him when he was going through those struggles early in the season?

CLINT HURDLE: I think you're aware, I have a comfortable relationship with a guy named Barmes. On the same token, I brought Jordy up for a year and we didn't play him a lot. There was a reason to get him time to watch, because I felt that Barmes was the best option for us daily with our players to cut a rookie in at shortstop and to take veteran time away from a guy and give it to a younger guy. We were starting to make a move. I wanted to know exactly what the (indiscernible) was every day at short. It was a hard situation for Jordy to be in. But as much as I talked him through the situation last year, I was talking him through that situation. So I do believe he knew I knew what was going on. This year I felt it was in the best interest of the ballclub to just cut teeth with Jordy. I thought the possibility of Bar mis would have been very easy, but for his development and the development of the organization, we needed to answer some questions on Jordy. So what better question to answer is how tough is it? And that's not easy. I've had my fair share of tough months in the Big Leagues. So I have empathy and compassion for young players when they go through that. The last thing he needs is to be unplugged, cold shouldered, or even if you talk him through but if you take him out of the lineup, that is the ultimate voice. So I felt a bigger issue was letting him know that, no, we're going to give you time. I took time, tried to grow you up, we're going to grow you up on the field and give you every opportunity to show us how tough he was. He showed us how tough he was. As we talked about it inside our organization, there was nobody that had Jordy Mercer playing the most games of a Pirate last year, and that's what turned out happened. Jordy Mercer played the most games of a Pirate last year. That is a testament to the young man's toughness, his ability to stay focused and to know that he had the players and support of his team and the support of an organization and coaches.

Q. Given the acquisition of Sean Rodriguez and a couple other guys you've brought in, do you feel comfortable that you have those guys in the utility spots where Josh can be your guy at third base every day?

CLINT HURDLE: We do, and I thought we were I believe we were trying to make sure we got some guys together to look at it early with some of the acquisitions we made. Then with Rodriguez, we were able to fire Rodriguez. Rodriguez basically became the guy that Josh was the last two years previous to play a handful, five or six, positions to give a guy a day off here, to cover this over here, an option against left handed pitching and even right handed pitching. His splits aren't that dramatic one way or the other with some experience. To get him involved in the National League game as well, more opportunity I think to get his skill set on the field. He's played first base. He's played left field and right field. He's played third base and second base. He played one game at shortstop last year. Only started one game at shortstop last year, but he has experience at shortstop as well. It was a really good guy for us and for a number of different reasons to get involved in our team dynamics so Josh could be a guy we can count on in the lineup and respond to every day. We just announced that we acquired Julio Rodriguez from the Phillies. We have a very good relationship, and I honor the role of general manager and I never try to get outside that. So, yes, it's a good day. It's a hard day. Julio is one of our own. We've grown him up. He's a young, good looking left handed pitcher, Dominican kid that we all love, and to get something that was always yours, you've got to give up something, Bastardo, we had Antonio profiled very high on our list of potential bullpen acquisitions, watched him over the years. Everybody can dig up the numbers. He's got experience. Pitched in leverage situations, pitched in a hitter friendly ballpark for a long time I should say hitter friendly ballpark for a long time. Gives us a second left hander in the bullpen, and not just a left on left specialist. Somebody who can cut through some right handers. So we feel it's a very, very solid addition to our bullpen.

Q. How tough is that when you lose a player, like you said, that you care about and you like and all that stuff. I know it's a business, but how tough is that for manager?

CLINT HURDLE: The one thing we try and stay away from is it's a business. That's why anytime you I know this about players because I was one a long time ago. When you can show a player they can trust you and you care about them and can help them get better, it becomes special, and it becomes special when they leave for whatever reason. A lot of people are afraid to make that investment because then it makes leaving easier. I'm willing to look at it the other way. I want the leaving to be hard. I want it to be hard on both ends. I want Joely to be better, he's made us better. He performed for us and threw everything out there for us. Now we need to wish him well. Part of the reason you have a player development system is to make acquisitions to help you at the Major League level. There will be somebody that will explain that to him as well in ways that he can understand it. There is going to be an opportunity for him in Philadelphia as well, and that's always the challenge that this game has, but it's okay, because I love looking at guys and thanking them for their service and wishing them well in the future. I hope there is a day when we get to see Joely in a Major League uniform and we give him a hug and say, Well done.