PITTSBURGH — According to Las Vegas, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is on the hot seat.
The sports betting site Bovada has Hurdle as the most likely MLB manager to be fired first this season, posting 7/2 odds on Thursday. Cincinnati’s Bryan Price (4/1) and the Angels’ Mike Scoscia (5/1) were behind him.
Hurdle and the Pirates are coming off a 78-win season, the team’s fewest since Hurdle’s debut in 2011. The team also missed the postseason for the first time since 2012. Coming from afar, that would seem to suggest a team that could be close to making a coaching change.
But Hurdle is beloved in the clubhouse in Pittsburgh and has built a fantastic relationship with general manager Neal Huntington. Hurdle came into Pittsburgh with little experience in the analytical side of baseball that Huntington focuses on. Hurdle has embraced that with open arms, and continues to do so.
This offseason, he took time to meet with the Pirates’ new major league quantitative analyst Bob Cook to pick his brain, as well as usual standbys Larry Broadway, Dan Fox, Huntington and Kyle Stark. That willingness to continue to grow and re-invent himself and work with a general manager and staff that approach the game from a completely different background has made Hurdle an ideal fit for the Pirates.
“I continually try to evolve and learn,” Hurdle said. “By no way do I ever feel like I’m a finished product. I think when you stop learning, it’s time to move on. I have an appetite for learning. I have an appetite for being stretched. Growth doesn’t come in comfort. Growth comes when you get outside your comfort zone and try to do new things.”
Hurdle also continues to find different ways to connect the analytical ideas of the front office to those of the players and get a positive buy-in.
“Their lens does matter,” he said. “Their lens is real. That doesn’t mean it’s always correct for the greater good of the group. However, the way they see things is the way they see things. I take that into account more than I probably did coming in the door.”
That’s an approach that’s earned him the respect of the clubhouse, particularly those veterans that have served under a number of different styles of manager.
“It’s just positivity,” said catcher Chris Stewart. “He comes in every day with the same attitude no matter if we’re on a five-game losing streak or a ten-game winning streak, he comes in ready to win the game that night. You catch yourself feeling good when you’re around him. He knows how to manage personalities and that’s why guys play to a higher level playing for him. You respect it.”
That doesn’t mean that Hurdle is infallible. Like most managers, he’ll make mistakes from time to time and as the game’s understanding of analytics and advanced metrics progresses, he knows he still has work to do to keep up in those fields.
“I think it’s important in leadership to also douse yourself in humility,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers. I search out good answers and I search out places to find good answers and I search out open-mindedness to continue to grow. … This game has changed dramatically since my first year as a manager to where we are now. There’s a part of that that really invigorates and excites me.”
Hurdle’s contract expires after the 2017 season, with a club option for 2018.
With the Pirates being rained out on Thursday, the team pushed back the first scheduled start of Tyler Glasnow from Saturday to Monday. That’s part of the deal for a fifth starter, especially during a part of the season where weather is often a question mark. That’s made for some changes to his usual preparation routine.
“It doesn’t affect it much,” Glasnow said. “It’s not on a five-day [pattern], but you just have to take each day at a time and line it up how the bullpens line up. Just a couple extra bullpens this week and then I’ll be good.”
Now, with the Pirates scheduled to play 13 consecutive days, if rain forces a doubleheader, the team could need a spot starter. Right-hander Trevor Williams has been moved to the bullpen, but that is still a role he could perform.
“My last outing of the spring was four innings and the prior one was five,” he said. “They told me they wanted me to be a reliever and that’s my job today, but it could be different tomorrow.”
Staying stretched out and available to spot start, while at the same time being available out of the bullpen has been a new challenge this spring for Williams, who is spending his first significant time in the bullpen since college.
“It’s a big learning curve right now, especially with the rainouts, the off days and the travel days,” he said. “We’re figuring it out. Today, I’m a reliever and I’ll be a long guy if needed.”
Game 3: Pirates (0-2) vs Braves (1-2) pic.twitter.com/Xxt0tAhGPz
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) April 7, 2017
Ivan Nova will make his first start of the 2017 season at PNC Park. He had a good deal of success at home in his Pirates tenure last season, which Hurdle said was “one of the indicators” for choosing to start Nova during the home opener. Nova had a 2.45 ERA in 40.1 innings at PNC Park in 2016.
Starting Friday also ensures that his second start will be at home, as well. He is currently scheduled to pitch the final game of the Pirates’ homestand against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.
The corner of the Pirates’ clubhouse usually occupied by third baseman Jung Ho Kang and Korean interpreter H.K. Kim is now filled by infielders Phil Gosselin and Alen Hanson. Kang had a locker set up waiting for him at LECOM Park in Bradenton, but that is not the case in Pittsburgh.