Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle knows the challenges of high expectations. They were put on him when he was drafted in the first round (ninth overall) by the Kansas City Royals in the 1975 draft. At just 20-years-old, Hurdle made his Major League debut and was on a Sports Illustrated cover being labeled as the next young “phenom”.
While Pedro Alvarez never made a magazine cover of that magnitude, he and Hurdle share many similarities. Alvarez, too, was drafted in the first round. After coming up through the organization to “save the Pirates” with one swing of that bat, the expectations on the third baseman are very high.
And that’s something that has bonded the two.
“There’s some common fabric with Pedro and myself,” Hurdle said. “And then there’s some things that I can’t identify with. As far as expectations, there’s a number of conversations that Pedro and I had in the past year and a half about things along those lines. I told him, I really want you to take inventory. How many people do you know that can identify with the situation you’re in? He pointed at me and said, ‘You can, can’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I can. Here’s what I felt. Here’s where I didn’t do, maybe I should have done more of. Here’s what I did too much of. Not trying to give you shortcuts, just letting you know that I’ve had that experience. I went down that route. Maybe by sharing that information, I can keep you out of some wrong turns.'”
One of the biggest things that Hurdle shared with Alvarez was always trying to please everyone. Hurdle said he became somewhat of a people pleaser while playing professional ball and was striving to always be perfect.
“Just trying to make everybody happy. Every coach, every teammate. Being very young and getting that opportunity so quickly, I think there was some part of me that felt like I had to continually measure up to just about everything I did. Which caused a lot of probably unnecessary expectations from my vantage point. All I’d ever done was play. I had to do that well enough to get to where I’ve gotten as quickly as I had. I felt I had to add on to it. It’s almost like a dog chasing a tail. I always had something to do, and I wasn’t getting anywhere doing it.”
“I was never embracing some of the good, I was always chasing perfect.”
The skipper has been impressed with Alvarez’s mental makeup. In parts of three seasons in the Majors, Alvarez has seen his side of struggles. After being Pittsburgh’s Opening Day starter in 2011, Alvarez went on to play in just 74 games and hit for just a .191/.272/.289 line. He battled injuries, and was even demoted to Triple-A to work on his swing.
“There’s been so much that has come his way in a year and a half,” Hurdle said. “He’s whiffed on some of them. He’s gonna. I think that’s the beauty of the relationship we’re developing. He can come in here and I’ll say, ‘Dude. Really?’ But we talk. We communicate constantly. He pushes himself. He expects a lot out of himself. I do think one of the redeeming qualities that he has –[his teammates] have never given up on him. He’s never given them a reason to give up on him. And there’s something that carries weight with that. I can’t say about other situations and other players that I have that have gone through very challenging times.”
The conversations with his skipper have seemed to pay off. After struggling in spring training — a .170 average and 22 strikeouts over 19 games — Alvarez looked as if Triple-A was where he should have started the season. But the Pirates had faith in the left-hander and its paid off for the club.
Alvarez is second behind Andrew McCutchen in home runs with 16. He’s also hitting .365 over the past three weeks. On the season he is hitting for a .231/.307/.478 line.
“I think it started initially with one plan at the plate,” Hurdle said. “I do think he was varying his plans. I think from at-bat to at-bat he was trying to accomplish different things. He was hitting into too many deep counts, too many pitchers counts. We showed him the charts of 85 percent of the pitches being outer third of the plate. There’s no need to concern yourself with the other third. They’re not even pitching you in the middle. You’ve got to find a way to attack that ball, drill that ball out there because that will get them to rearrange their game plan. He started doing that.”
“I think their game plans have rearranged. They’re not going 0-1, 0-2 anymore. They’re starting to spin balls and they’re spinning them bad. They’re getting behind in counts. Now, he’s getting in some offensive counts. The fact that he’s drilled some left-handers and some breaking balls, too. He’s just covering the plate. He’s dropped anchor. He’s getting his bat out front. He’s hitting with authority and he’s hitting with confidence.”