Friday, May 22, 2015

Hurdle needs better players, not blame

Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 11:03 p.m.

(Getty Images)

Possession being nine-tenths of the law, whoever actually has that baseball Pedro Alvarez bombed into a boat should probably be allowed to keep it.

But possession isn't everything.

The point Clint Hurdle made Wednesday — basically, blaming himself for the Pirates' plundering start to a presumed promising season — was way wrong even though, as manager, he's in possession of the power to produce different lineups.

“It's not so much a personnel question. It's performance,” Hurdle said. “And that falls on me.”

At the time of his admirable acceptance of accountability, only four National League clubs had lost more games than the Pirates. Of those, the Brewers and Marlins already are on their second managers.

The right guy is managing the Pirates.

He's managing too many bad major leaguers for a supposed contender.

Maybe Corey Hart still can hit, but only a little bit. And what's it matter, anyway? He can't play anywhere. And the Pirates already have two players (Alvarez and Gregory Polanco) who still are learning the only positions a gimpy Hart could play.

In Jose Tabata, the Pirates have somebody who is an afterthought even when he's back in the big leagues. Hurdle can barely seem to mention his name. GM Neal Huntington actually said Tabata probably isn't in the Pirates' long-term plans.

All anybody needs to know about Hart or Tabata is that neither replaced the scuffling Polanco in right field on Wednesday night. Josh Harrison was. That meant there was never going to be an opportunity for Hurdle to discipline Starling Marte for his lackadaisical attempt — a generous description, to be sure — to play a ball hit to left field in a loss on Tuesday night.

Had he better options, Hurdle might have benched Marte.

Of course, Hurdle could be forgiven for looking at his bench and deciding to settle for a tough talk with Marte.

Excluding Jung Ho Kang, who is seeing regular duty as a super-utility infielder, the Pirates' bench comprises mostly of duds instead of dudes you could count upon as a manager. Among reserves, only Sean Rodriguez and Chris Stewart shouldn't have to pay their way into a major league ballpark.

Still, if those guys left their bats at home, nobody would notice. Already 49 games into the season, only two Pirates (Hart and Tabata) had pinch hits.

It's a good thing these Pirates are so darn deep, right?

At spring training, the talk was all about improved depth and raised expectations. Deeper than at any time since skinny Barry Bonds lit up Three Rivers Stadium, the wild-card weary Pirates could finally win the division.

Well, 2015 is starting to feel a lot like 1989, when the popular-pick Pirates weren't deep enough to make good on their promise. They slipped to fifth in the National League East.

Right now, the only depth I see with the Pirates is their low spot in the standings. The only step they've taken is toward the status quo — i.e. needing another rally from a disappointing first two months marked by more losses than victories.

I'm not counting on another turnaround.

The bench is bad, and some important positions aren't a lot better. Aside from Marte in left field, the Pirates can't compare with contending clubs' corner positions.

It doesn't help that their third baseman was the right fielder Wednesday. But it's a really bad sign when Harrison is possibly the best option for right field and first base. (And here you might have thought he wasn't worth his new, big contract. Pshaw.)

“I've got to find better ways to get the performance out of the group we've got here,” Hurdle said.

Good luck.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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