Hurdle keeping consistent lineup this season

Change of pace for Pirates, who used 108 combinations last year

Hurdle keeping consistent lineup this season

PITTSBURGH -- From top to bottom, the Pirates have built one of the Majors' most productive lineups so far this season. They've been remarkably consistent in another way, too.

On Monday, manager Clint Hurdle wrote out the Bucs' typical starting eight for the 14th time in 26 games: John Jaso, Andrew McCutchen, David Freese, Starling Marte, Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer.

Last year, the Pirates used 108 lineup combinations, not counting the pitcher. Their most-used lineup took the field together 12 times. In fact, the Pirates haven't used a lineup this often since 1997, when their most common lineup was used 17 times.

"I haven't really thought about it," Hurdle said. "This is the model that we've got rolling into this season that we like taking the field."

Hurdle enjoyed a similar luxury with the National League-champion Rockies in 2007, when he sent out the same eight hitters -- names he quickly recited from memory in his office Monday afternoon -- in the same order 22 times.

The composition of the Pirates' lineup will change soon, when third baseman Jung Ho Kang returns from his Minor League rehab assignment. And as the season wears on, the Bucs could rotate in their reserves more frequently, shuffling players in, out, up and down the lineup.

But for now, the Pirates like the batting order they're consistently sending out -- the way they've hit doesn't hurt, either.

"The nice thing," Hurdle said, rapping his knuckles against his desk, "is that everybody stays healthy. We'll see how that plays out.

"I think we've been good with the rest. I like the eight we're sending out there, and I like the four that we've got to back them up as well."

Seven or eight?

The Pirates have carried 13 pitchers and 12 hitters since April 13, keeping an extra reliever and playing a man short on the bench. Hurdle said this is the longest he's ever had eight relievers at his disposal.

"I made the comment [Sunday] as we started playing extra innings, 'Wow! I've still got a lot of pitching left! This is going to be OK,'" he said. "Which normally isn't the thing that comes out of your mouth.

"I think we've utilized the eight men well. I think it's played well for us," he said. "We've been able to get the pitching that we need to win games, and the guys that have been on the bench have been very representative and helped as well."

On his weekly radio show Sunday, general manager Neal Huntington said their plan is to eventually return to a more traditional roster setup -- 13 hitters and 12 pitchers, including seven relievers.

"It's always good to have the manager have as many different weapons in his bullpen as possible," Huntington said on KDKA-FM, "as long as Clint is comfortable being a man short on the bench."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.