With the Pittsburgh Pirates riding a three-game win streak, their first of that length since mid-April, the club still sits within striking distance of the National League Central lead.

As of this writing, the Pittsburgh Pirates sit just four games out of first place, which given the suspensions and injuries this team has dealt with this season they should be very happy with heading into the summer months.

However, you have to wonder if Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle has enough tricks up his sleeve to get this team over the hump.

Hurdle is likely to receive a contract extension sometime during this season or in the offseason. That has been reported by Ken Rosenthal, which means it is pretty much a given, but should it be?

I generally am not a fan of blaming the manager or general manager when things go wrong, but it has been tough to defend Hurdle’s decision making at times and it has cost the Pirates games.

When you are in a close division race, your manager simply can’t be a detriment and while Hurdle is a great motivator, you have to wonder how much better the Pirates can get under his leadership. It’s very likely that this current group peaked in 2015.

This isn’t a fire Hurdle column. That’s not going to happen and if they did, who would the realistically hire to take his place?

Instead this is more of a look at some things that need to be changed for Hurdle to deserve that contract extension that he will ultimately receive.

Throw the Book Away

I hate the fact that Hurdle goes by the book no matter the situation.

While I do like the use of analytics the book provides, I dislike the way Hurdle goes by the book in player management.

There have been far too many instances that have hurt the team this season. His book said Daniel Hudson was the eighth inning guy no matter what. Even though Hudson struggled in the role it took far too long the get Hudson out of the setup role.

The book also said Tony Watson is the closer. Watson only had three perfect ninth innings and something was clearly wrong. Yet the book said to stick with Watson even though the best two relievers on the team- Juan Nicasio and Felipe Rivero– could clearly help close out games.

Both instances cost the team wins.

So did leaving Andrew McCutchen in the three hole despite his two-month slump. Then there is the fact that until recently, Hurdle won’t use a bullpen arm more than one inning unless it is an extra inning game and he is out of arms.  I get he doesn’t want to throw guys multiple innings but he is doing his bullpen no justice in the meantime.

Hurdle is committed to going by the book at all cost, yet he rarely plays lefty-righty matchups late in games when it matters.

It’s time to throw that book away and read a different author.

Putting his players in the best spots to have success will win this team games. Despite what the book says.

Play the Best Eight

I know guys need rest and you need to keep your bench guys involved, but Hurdle has to get his best lineup on the field a lot more than he does.

Those are the guys that are going to win games the rest of the way.

It will be very interesting to see what role Elias Diaz has when Francisco Cervelli comes back. Or if he is even on the 25-man roster when Chris Stewart is healthy.

It won’t be as the starting catcher. That’s for sure.

Diaz is just one example, but Hurdle needs to start playing his best lineup more often than not. A break here and there to give guys days off is fine, but his best lineup should be on the field more than a couple of times a week.

Trust the Youngsters

Hurdle has never liked to put his trust in young players and that has shown this year.

Diaz is just one example, but he is going to have to start rubbing veterans the wrong way if he has to in order to get talented younger players in the lineup. Josh Bell should be the first baseman for nine innings almost every night.  He also treated Adam Frazier with kid gloves, especially when he was hitting the cover off the ball. He also needs to find a way to get Jose Osuna more at bats.

The team is better off with the younger guys in the lineup. That allows a guy like John Jaso to be the first left-handed batter off the bench where he has performed very well.

Hurdle better get used to the youth because there should be more on the way in the next couple of years.

We’ve heard a lot about the Pirates prospects the past couple of years. Hurdle needs to put his trust in these guys. They’ve shown they can contribute.

Progress

Hurdle has been hamstrung this season. It’s not easy to scratch out wins on a nightly basis when two of your best bats in Starling Marte and Jung-Ho Kang have been out of the lineup.

That’s a tough chore for any manager.

But ultimately Hurdle has to be judged on his performance on the field.

A 20-game slide from 2015 to 2016 has to be a blimp in the radar and not where this team is heading under Hurdle.  He has to show progress this season and currently sitting six games under .500 at the beginning of June doesn’t offer up much hope for him doing so.

If the Pirates truly peaked after the 2015 season and are in a midst of a downward spiral, then Hurdle shouldn’t receive a contract extension. Realistically how much better can things get under his guidance?

He shouldn’t receive an extension based on the fact that he is a great guy. And he is. But if he can start winning games and getting the ship righted, then absolutely he should get one. It needs to be based on wins and losses.

He should just earn it like everyone else.

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.

  • JAL 1234

    The 2nd Baltimore game last week was the worst 6-1 lead going to bottom of 8th. Brings Barbato, who probably bottom man in the pen, in. Ok, save the good arms if possible. Barbato give up a homer, 6-2. 4 run lead is not overwhelming but CH lets Barbato start the 9th–bad move. Lead off walk, keeps Barbato in and next hitter doubles. Now we go to Watson, who blew the game the night before while Rivero sat. Next thing you know it is 6-6.

  • Lee Foo Young

    I ‘love’ the “Hurdle hates to play the young guys” mantra, when young guys like Bell, Diaz, Frazier, Polanco, Glasnow, Williams, Rivero, Kuhl and Taillon are playing regularly.

    • redrage97

      well.. to be fair.. Diaz just got here and there is no one else much older to play in his place right now.

    • leadoff

      I don’t think he hates young guys, but facts show he favors vets. He is forced to play the young guys, Huntington is not going out and getting wily old vets for Hurdle. I believe this is the system and Hurdle has no choice if wants to stay here. But guys like Gosselin and Bostick had no chance here. Guys like McCutchen, Polanco, Freeze, Jaso, Cervelli and Mercer stunk up the joint for months, but had their jobs every day, yes they might start hitting, however never start fielding. The point is Hurdle would rather lose with these guys than play a guy like Ozuna regularly or give Gosselin or Bostick a fair shot, at least find out if Ozuna could be a regular, maybe he can’t, but who knows. Pitchers like Glasnow did get a good shot, but in no way am I going to believe that was Hurdles doing, that chance had Huntington written all over it. Some of the decisions are organizational I am sure, Bell at first base forever is organizational IMO, Glasnow, Williams and Kuhl also.

  • redrage97

    deserve? no, but also hasn’t done a lot to not be offered one.

    Hind sight is 20/20, some questionable choices have been made during games that have cost a handful of wins over the years but this happens to a lot of managers, coaches and GMs. It happens, Nothing worth loosing a job over.

    Hes done a fine job with what he has been given, if there is any real complaint against Clint is that he may not have a short enough string when it comes to players who have performed in the past.. and as a direct result of that maybe a slight too short of a string with younger players

    • leadoff

      Hindsight is great, but I don’t like hindsight, but when someone like me writes in ST that players like McCutchen, Polanco and Watson are cast in the wrong spots and it takes Hurdle 3-4 months to figure it out and loses countless games, it is not hindsight. I wrote McCutchen should not be moved to right field, I wrote that McCutchen needed dropped down in the lineup on opening day, actually the blueprint for that came from Leland in the WBC when he hit McCutchen down in the order. I wrote Polanco had no business hitting 4th in this lineup, Hurdle topped that by batting him 3rd even worse. I wrote that Watson was down on his velocity and I did not think he could go soft because most of his success was hitting 94-95, something he has started to do. What I saw that Hurdle did not, was that these players all have something in common, none of them are good pressure players, Polanco could grow into it, McCutchen could become that wily old vet someday and Watson could survive in the 8th inning role that he is accustomed to. At this point in time none of these players should be in positions to fail again.

      • redrage97

        Lots of “I’s” in there lmao

        You also have to figure in pressure from the FO. Watson and Cutch needed to perform in those roles for trade value and it hurt the them

        Kang was to be the 4 and if Marte was still here he’d probably be third now. Top in Polanco’s injuries which also hurt his productions. Healthy not the best option, oft injured even worse option. But really who would you put there in stead? Bell (if he picks up some) or Osuna maybe, Diaz eh no probably not, Freese, na Mercer cervelli big no, def not Harrison or Frazier….

        • leadoff

          Lots of “I’s” yes, but to make a point only. Yes Hurdle has had some problems to deal with, Kang, Marte. You also make a good point “who”. To that question I would say that a lineup without a true 3 or 4 hitter needs daily juggling until they get to the point where they have a 3-4 hitter, not the steadfast banging their heads off of brick walls. Hurdle also has problems that we as fans don’t have when we make evaluations, he has to deal with these players individually, on this subject I also disagree with Hurdle. I do not believe he has to baby vets, they will not play poorly if they don’t like him, they play for money, the better they play the more money they make, there are tough managers and always have been tough managers that put the team before the individual player. I am also not sure Kang and Marte are 3 and 4 hitters, but if they were here they would probably be the best bets for those spots. 3 and 4 and closers are pressure and pivotal spots that have everything to do with a team contending or not and have to be addressed by more than just sticking someone there and letting them fail and doing nothing about it.

          • redrage97

            they haven’t been banging their head on the wall, they made changes moved people around.. go look at the lineups.. yeah polanco has been in there in the middle most of the time but they’ve used quite a bit of different ones and really They didn’t let cutch stay 3 long.. 40 games isn’t that long.. though sure seemed like it 😉

            and there really arn’t many vets on the team to “baby” but you can see the my earlier comment about that.

            Kang and marte would have been teh best choices for 3/4/5 there is no doubt there at least with this roster..

  • leadoff

    No, he should not, however I think he is a good baseball man and I believe they should move him to a different position within the organization. I do believe he is a veteran manager and favors vets over rookies. He is a throwback to the 60’s. Modern baseball does not allow for that kind of managing anymore. Vets are hard to keep together and the money they make and the guarantees they get makes them very hard to manage.