Without question, Clint Hurdle is the best manager the Pittsburgh Pirates have had since Jim Leyland. There is no arguing that fact. Gene Lamont couldn ?t build off of what Leyland left him and then had to endure a teardown. Lloyd McClendon was known more for his colorful antics than his team ?s results on the field (which were not good). Jim Tracy did not want to be in Pittsburgh at all. And John Russell, well, he was more an animatronic robot than manager. But thanks to Hurdle, the nightmares of seasons past were pushed aside and a new hope emerged. Finally, the team had a manager who wanted to change the culture of losing and make putting on a Pirates uniform mean something again for the players.
Three playoff appearances in seven seasons definitely exceeded expectations many had coming into his tenure, capped by a 98 win season in 2015, which tied a franchise record in the live ball era with the 1991 club. Hurdle has been considered one of the more cerebral managers over the past few years in the majors, plunging in sabermetrics and setting this lineup to almost perfection in recent seasons. But so far, 2017 has not been the best for ol’ Clint. For starters, he lost his South Korean infielder for what could be the season after being denied entry to the United States following his latest DUI sentence. Then Starling Marie was popped for taking the same steroids the 70 ?s Steelers used on their way to four Super Bowls. Not only did he get an 80 game ban, but he won ?t be able to compete in the playoffs that the Pirates will miss. And though the loss of both Marte and Kang are a major factor in the team being 6 games under .500, some of that blame has to fall on the manager.
Let ?s take a look at the Tony Watson situation. Despite pitching beautifully in the first month of the season posting a 0.96 ERA and 7 saves, the wheels fell off quickly after that. In May, Watson struggled mightily with a 5.14 ERA while blowing 3 saves and surrendering 3 home runs. June has been even worse for the former set up man. Following a blown save against the Baltimore Orioles in the first game of a two game series, Hurdle gave Watson a vote of confidence, sticking with the guy that helped him through many critical situations over the years. But, yet again, Watson would fail his skipper. In the second game, coming in with a 6-2 and runners on second and third thanks to Johnny Barbato, a sac fly and double off the lefty brought the Orioles to within 2 runs. After striking out Caleb Joesph and getting the Pirates one strike away from victory, Watson served up meat ball to pinch hitter Trey Mancini, who smashed it into the right centerfield stands to tie the game at six. Mancini would finish the Pirates later with a three run homer and the 9-6 victory.
Hurdle owned his mistake after the game, but the problem with that is he had his answer to his closer issue the whole time in Felipe Rivero. Starting the season as the 7th inning man, the flamethrower rose up the ladder into the 8th inning after the coaching staff finally realized Daniel Hudson is not a set up man, more of a pitcher whose arm may fall off at any moment. There were ample amount of times a move could have been made to alter the closer spot before the this all went down, but Hurdle decided to drag his feet due to his blind loyalty to Watson (and to try and help his trade value, perhaps at the behest of Huntington). Since Rivero started closing, he has never been more dominant, not allowing a hit in three saves so far this season. But when he announced his decision about the closer spot, Hurdle said that both Rivero and Juan Nicasio would share the duties even though Rivero has won the job already in everyone else ?s opinion.
Despite this, Hurdle chose to go with Rivero in the 8th inning instead of the 9th inning against the Chicago Cubs Friday night. Though he did shut down the Cubs’ meat of the order, this left the ninth to Nicasio. On top of that, the leading off the ninth was Jason Hayward, a guy who crushes Nicasio time in and time out. Back-to-back doubles by Hayward and Willson Contreras tied the game at four. A single, then international walk, brought an end to his first (and perhaps last) night as closer. Hurdle then brought in his old friend Tony, who proceeded to give up the go-ahead and game winning single to Jon Jay.
These are just two examples of where Clint Hurdle just could not get out of his own way. I get he is a very smart baseball guy and knows a lot more about the game than me, but at times he just out thinks himself. Just like with the Rivero/Watson debate. Hurdle was at first hesitant to have Rivero even near the 8th inning, so as not to go with back-to-back lefties at the end of the ballgame. I understand the reasoning behind it, but when it’s obvious the 7th inning guy (Rivero) is head and shoulders better than the guy pitching in the 8th (Hudson), you have to adjust. Same thing happened when Hurdle curtain jerked Josh Bell for defensive purposes early in the year. Though he has allowed the rookie to stay in the entire game now, the fact the he took out one of the best bats the Pirates had at the time is baffling. And though John Jaso has technically been one of the most clutch players over the last two seasons, replacing the player he took for defensive purposes for a player who is not really that much better of a defender does not make much sense in my eyes. If Hurdle wants to somehow lead this team to a legitimate record by season ?s end, he needs to stay out of his own way.