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December 12, 2018

Clint Hurdle

Las Vegas, Nevada

Q. Neal mentioned the other day you guys might consider using an opener as one of your rotations. How do you feel about that whole pitching strategy of the opener?
CLINT HURDLE: We had talked about it at times last year, just because of the recency of it going on, watching how some other clubs attacked it, why. Sometimes it's because of injury, sometimes it was maybe lack of -- or they felt it was a fifth starter. The common-sense part of it is real. I mean it's just rearranging the mentality of the people that are involved and working them through it, that you're going to get a guy that's going to come in and give you X number of outs and maybe it's always been around, the follower, the next guy, whoever it is. It takes the leverage of him having to face the middle of the lineup portion maybe three times.

We'll see how our internal competition works itself out, see if it makes sense. But we've planned to have that conversation. We've had the conversation to see where it takes us.

Q. What type of pitcher do you look for as that opener? What types of traits do you look for as somebody that could do that role?
CLINT HURDLE: The ones we've identified is a guy that obviously is a pretty good reliever, that can get through that part of the lineup. You're going to take a guy that may be one of your bridge guys. The names of the people that have done it. You go and look at their workloads, their history, their career. We've got some guys in-house that we've talked about -- I don't want to throw names out here until we have the conversations with the people involved -- but somebody that can get right or left out.

Because I think the days of the managers trying to attack an opener in a certain way, you pretty much have got to feel if he's an opener or a legitimate starter. Taillon is not going to be confused with that position, or a guy like Musgrove or Williams that can get both sides of the plate out, that can throw some of -- a volume of pitches that's real and significant that can maybe get you six outs.

Q. What have been your early impressions of starting to work with your new hitting coaches? What do you think they can do to create more consistency for your lineup?
CLINT HURDLE: It's always a period of just trying to work them in slowly as far as more often than not you feel like you're drinking from a fire hose, you're joining a new organization. We've sat both men down individually. We've also had an opportunity to get together as a group, with Kevin Young included, here in Las Vegas. Rick and I have some history from back in the day, he worked with Davey, Marcel, Team USA. Davey and I have had ongoing conversation for 20 years now.

So to find out Rick's background in a more meaningful way, the different roles, the different responsibilities, the different ideas that he's had, the update, the awareness of the new technology out and available and how it applies and having the language that can simplify it, I think he's a really good find for us. Jacob Cruz, I had him as a player, actually I was a coach in Colorado in 2001, I was both the hitting coach and the outfield coach.

He was very impressive in the early interview we had. Following up, talking to some other people, that he had some common history with, that I had common history with, found out that he had really worked hard at research, himself.

Now, where he was a coach, what he wanted to be as a coach and where the game was going. And he actually got into a lane to track out that and hunt that and get better at that. I think the combination of the two is going to give us an opportunity to do a job, hopefully a more productive, more consistent job than we've been able to do in the past. We had two good men involved. And that's one of the things in our industry kicks in the feet. New people come in, you blow the trumpets and sing the praises, like the guys before weren't trying. The men before weren't good men. The men before weren't putting the work in. That's never going to be the case with me. Jeff Livesey and Jeff Branson, they both dedicated everything they had, and unfortunately it didn't work. We felt bringing in a couple of new men, sometimes a different voice does make a difference. Sometimes different skill sets can help and make a difference. And I think that's what we tried to add value with to our organization.

Q. What does Chisenhall bring to the table for you?
CLINT HURDLE: Lonnie? Lonnie can hit. He's a versatile defender that I think we've kind of said that's good, we'd like you to go play right field. If we get in a pinch and we've got to move things around, but he's gone out of his way. He's at a time in his career where he also feels an edge and a want to is probably maybe a little bit -- there's more traction to it than before, because he's been off the field some. When this man has been on the field the bat has played. The versatile defender has played. There's experience and there's playoff experience, there's good team experience, being a teammate. So he brings a lot of intangibles as well as skill sets to the game that can compliment our club. Our roster as it sits right now and the absence of Polanco, to go out and perform with some consistent at-bats.

Q. As you look around the division, the Brewers talented, the Cubs talented, the Cardinals just got better with Goldschmidt. What's the path you see going forward for the Pirates?
CLINT HURDLE: To start with, a year of experience for our starting rotation. An opportunity for somebody, Brault, Kingham, somebody else to provide us with a fifth starter, if need be. The edge we saw from our bullpen last year is real and significant of the we were able to win games that we had leads in after the sixth inning.

And I think for me as important as anything is we have position players that are going to take the field that all have room for improvement. Everyone has an opportunity for improvement. Cervelli, Diaz will tell you that, Polanco, when he returns, Gonzalez, who we've added, Chisenhall, Frazier, Bell, Moran and Kang that in itself is very exciting to be walking in the door, as well.

Q. What's your impression on Goldschmidt?
CLINT HURDLE: He's an elite player. He's really good at-batting. We've watched a little bit of it. Our division was good before Paul Goldschmidt got into it. You'll look at the records. You look at the lineups. You've got the face of a pitcher, he's added more talent to their club individually and to our division. However, the one thing I like about our guys, come game time they're ready to go out and get outs. And the name on the back, I don't think we have any stargazing going on. I think they'll look at it as a very professional challenge, to get another really good hitter, to get him out or trying to figure out what he can do. Good players are always fun to compete against.

Q. With the years you've spent around McCutchen, how would you describe his leadership style and the impact he had in the clubhouse?
CLINT HURDLE: I think what I experienced with Andrew is Andrew is going to impact the clubhouse with his daily effort, with his daily preparation. There are times he will be vocal and it falls back to the EF Hutton commercial, when he does talk, people listen. He's not going to get in front of people. We're going to huddle up and meet up. But there would be times he would take a vocal stand and share something, whether it's a team meeting, sometimes in a dugout during the game. But the daily effort, the energy that he would bring, the way he would go about the -- even the dugout conversations during the game were fighting and competing to add value to somebody else, what he's seeing and what he's feeling. It was a tremendous honor to have him as a player and to be his manager. I just spent some time today texting him and reaching out to him, happy and excited for his opportunity. It's a park he swung a bat at pretty well in. A little different from San Francisco, to go to that venue and swing a bat. Could be an exciting time.

Q. (Inaudible.)
CLINT HURDLE: Well, this year I don't know. We love our guys. We love the development of Hayes, we love the development of Tucker and Keller. We'll see how the season plays out. Cole Tucker, we were able to bring into our Spring Training last year. Mitch brought him over for a game, looking forward to get to know him. Sometimes opportunities present themselves. However, they've gotten to a point in time where they know where the next opportunity lies. Hayes hasn't been in Triple-A, this is a new opportunity to start there. The other two have experienced that to some degree. Good players find a way to the Major Leagues, though.

Q. You guys traded Ivan Nova yesterday, what kind of pitcher is he?
CLINT HURDLE: I shared with Kenny Williams and Ricky Renteria, they're getting a good pitcher and a good man. He's continued to evolve and work and learn. It wasn't like he showed up and thought he was a finished product leaving New York. He had to embrace a different kind of game. A different style of game coming for to the National League. He's got a tool set as far as pitchability that's real, can sequence, breaking ball, used his change-up more, two seam fastball, and just to show you, the guy turns over 30, starts elevating his fastball later, continuing to learn, continuing to want to get better. He was the definition of a pro. He added value to us in the clubhouse, on the field with all our players, during game time he'd be huddled up with a group at the end sharing comments, sharing thoughts. He'll be a good addition.

Q. Talking about Gonzalez and the potential he has, what do you know of him, how excited are you about him?
CLINT HURDLE: I'm excited but from a different standpoint. I've only seen glimpses, I have coaches that have seen him play, and are very excited for him to bring him to the organization with an opportunity to be a shortstop. The opportunity to compete for a position. People that have seen him in the past, people that are aware of the challenge that a guy trying to play, Lindor is in front of me, who's that other guy, that Gonzalez guy is in front of me. It can be tough. He continued to work. He continued to be ready for whatever opportunities he was presented. We like the player. We like the skill set. This type of environment, this could be a really good match for both of us. I'm basically excited for what our scouts said today, watched him at length, a volume of games and what our coaches have seen from him. And there's always individuals that you can network in the game that experienced the man and something of a man, that this could be a good fit for him, as well, getting a first chance, getting an opportunity to go win a championship.

Q. Two pitchers coming off of surgery, you guys are pretty banged up just going into Spring Training. You don't seem to be a guy that gets worried. Does that affect how you plan for Spring Training, your depth is going to be tested from PFPs on.
CLINT HURDLE: It may be, and may not be. Talked to Musgrove, he was six weeks post-surgery, it was his first play catch day with one of our PTs.

I had conversation with Archer, he feels really good mentally about having been able to take care of what was lingering, ongoing, he tried to manage and work through. That won't be a problem. We'll see where it plays out. Polanco is not going to be ready Opening Day. I don't know when he's going to be ready. The other two guys we'll wait and see. I do think we deal with it realistically. You've got to have a plan B. So I think we're aware of the fact of having a plan B in place and staying optimistic on the time tables these guys are working through.

Q. Relievers generally in their year to year volatility, why do you think that happens?
CLINT HURDLE: It's such a hard question to answer because I'll be the first one to tell it's really hard to be a good reliever for five years. We've had some guys go through our team that have been good, Tony Watson was a really good reliever for five, six years. Sometimes it's just overall health, because when they're good, they get used frequently. And I've got to believe there's a threshold of pitches, ops, innings, that keep them in a place they can get downtime, get rest, and go out and be healthy the next year, as far as they understand, and sometimes maybe you've crossed that border, they think they're healthy, feel okay, maybe they're not where they were the year before, from a freshness standpoint, from an overall arm health. Sometimes it's the League punching back. Or their pitches don't show up as well. Maybe they were a seventh inning guy. Now they want to be an eighth inning guy. And maybe they try to add, trying to enhance the pitch rather than execute the pitch.

So there's different reasons. That's one of the things you've got to work through. And Neal has done such a great job for us putting together a great bullpen, bringing men in that have consistently shown up or when we had openings to find other guys that come in and add more value.

Q. If Francisco Cervelli ends up being traded, is there a path of contention?
CLINT HURDLE: Hypothetical situations I'm not a fan of. He's a Pirate right now. We'll see. If we get to there. I think there's a path of contention. Nobody here can tell me what Diaz is going to do next year, I can't tell you. But that opportunity will present itself and he'll get a chance to show us what he can do.

So I still would think we'd be ready to go play ball. And I think the biggest gasket around would be Diaz. He's not 22 anymore. He's at a point in time where he would really embrace an opportunity to start games and play five days a week and see where he could take it. We saw the impactful bat, a solid receiver, we saw a good thrower, putting some shutouts together with the staff. It wouldn't be the same team, obviously. It would be a different skill set. But I think it's still one that would of contention.

Q. What's your view on the shift discussions? How would you feel when you were a player, something that drastic changed?
CLINT HURDLE: I would figure out a way that I've got to get them to is stop playing me that way. Back in the day we'd all get together, when I was a kid and we'd go out and play on a yard or field, if we didn't have enough players you'd shut down a field. Sometimes we'd shut down the pull field, we didn't know why we did it. We just would do it to change the game and realized we learned how to hit the ball the other way. And sometimes you'd shut down the off field, so you'd learn how to pull the ball.

What the shifts are telling hitters, is here what you do, and here's the way we're going to play you. And it's now that point of competition where a punch has been thrown, a defense has been laid out, where is your counter punch? Where is your answer? We've actually seen some guys physically -- and you can watch swings go about trying to change the shift that's being played against them in our division, certain left-handed hitters. It affects the left handers way more than right-handers, by taking different shots, hitting balls the other way, doing different things. It's just another evolution of the game that's been very intriguing, very creative. It's changed the dynamic of the game.

Q. What's the percentage of pitchers that can actually pitch successfully with the shift?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, you know, that's part of it. But I think the misconception a lot of times is just that, because you can pull data that doesn't matter if a guy is throwing 95 or 85, over the course of a thousand at-bats the hitter is going to hit this many balls to second base. It doesn't matter. It's not as much predicated on the pitcher, as it's predicated on the hitter's pattern, their DNA, their want to or not want to. The importance of it, it goes back to Braves baseball, pitching down and away, the left fielder would play down the line just off the field. How could he play there? That's where they're going to hit the ball because the pitchers are pitching it there.

We have a group right now they've bought into it. They know we're going to do it. Here's why we do it. The importance of getting the ball to certain spots and zones is always going to be important.

It's always been fun for me to review back when we first started doing all the shifting, and they'd look at the shortstop over their right shoulder and see them go (indicating) and then they'd have to step off. He's over there, A.J., he's over the second base side, turn this way, you might see him easier. It's really about embracing. There's going to be change in life and in sport. There's no doubt. How you embrace it, the level you embrace it, your willingness to embrace it can be a separator.

Q. Assuming Cervelli is back, would you consider playing him potentially more first base as an opportunity to keep his bat in the lineup without having him behind the plate? Would that be more of an option maybe like it was in the second half?
CLINT HURDLE: It would be an option. The level of more of an option would also be predicated on how Josh Bell shows up. Versatility is going to be help. Francisco would be the first one to tell you he's a catcher. The occasional game when you can move him over there, maybe, double-switch, need, get Diaz back there for a pinch-hit, keep him in the game, I think that all plays out, strengthens our roster and to play it out from time to time.

Q. How do you think Adam Frazier will do, if all goes as planned playing one position instead of moving all over and up and down the lineup?
CLINT HURDLE: Our plan going in and two weeks from now -- we have a plan going in, because I believe there's an organization, a conversation we've had. This, we believe, could be the best way to leverage the bat. He's been a good hitter. He's been an offensive player. When he's able to come back from Triple-A and get his mechanics in line and a better place for him, a place of conviction, you saw the barrel play, you saw him catching balls out front, the walks -- the walks -- he's not a guy that gets a ton of walks, but the grind and grit, he's good against left-handed pitching, not a big separation split guy. We've got to be smart, but I think that's one way we can find out how good a hitter he'll be. But I think that's an organizational belief, the conversation that we've had.

Q. Stepping back to the shifting, it kind of sounds like you're more in favor of the hitters adjusting to these things rather than some of the changes that we're hearing about, is that accurate?
CLINT HURDLE: No, I think that's -- first of all, what you hear and what's real -- I was just at a meeting today with Major League Baseball talking about a lot of these things, what's real conversations being had, what's the conversation being had. If there ever gets a day where they ask me what I think, and there may be, I don't have it in my DNA to say no, we can't have the shifts.

There was a level of analytics that some teams were so far ahead of the curve that they were benefitting from it. So I'm curious on what's the next smart play. And for me, elimination, I don't know if that's ever the best smart play. It may be. But in my gut of gut, my first initial reaction is like, these hitters need to figure some things out and attack it from that standpoint. We talk about our guys how it's real. And they're doing it for a reason. It's just like they pitch you for a reason. They feel you've got some weak spots and they want to isolate that and you want to work to your strong spots. Let's work to the strong spots to try to get the third infielder on the right side of the infield, get him back over to short stop and open up some ground. We'll see where it all goes. It's an interesting time to be involved in the game of baseball, for sure.

Q. What are they saying in the MLB meeting?
CLINT HURDLE: I can't talk about it. Secret stuff, man, there's only 30 managers and 30 general managers in there.

Q. Why do you feel it's so difficult for the hitters to figure out a shift?
CLINT HURDLE: It's not so much it's so difficult. It's the way they've been raised. And a part of it is Major League Baseball, it's what they get paid for. And we'll be the first ones to tell you it all comes down to walks, strikeouts and runs, it's not the same for the fan. The fan wants the action and a walk is not a big action play. A strikeout is not a big action play. The home run is nice. So more often than not it's about what they've grown up learning. Who's doing the teaching. What results are they looking for in the leagues they're playing or the showcase camps they're going to. What are scouts looking for. What are they being graded on. And part, I think some of it, baseball has created this -- the launch angle in its own way. But go read Ted Williams book of hitting, he talks about launch angle all the years ago.

So there's some things we're just -- we're grabbing on to, we're holding on to and we're leveraging and good things are happening. But you'll see pitchers fight back. It used to be pitch the ball down, now it's pitch the ball up. But I still think a hitter learning how to be a hitter would be the best way to get the shift back to playing straight up defense.

Q. You were one of the lowest strikeout teams in the majors. How important is that to be able to consistently avoid the strikeout?
CLINT HURDLE: I still think it's important. I do think there's a time when our game is going to recalibrate itself. Strikeouts have never been time. First time there were more strikeouts more than hits. Batting average lowest since the '70s, the overall industry batting average in the Major League level.

A strikeout, as I said before, if you average nine as a team you're watching the other team play catch for three innings, it's hard to win a ball game where the other team plays catch for three innings, putting the ball in play you make people make plays. And sometimes you find holes. So I do believe that there still is value in that. And seeing pitches. I've had conversations, well, the starters don't stay as long. I get it. Truthfully get it.

But there's also, hasn't been a season where we've had five openers in a rotation or you start having three openers with it, what's that going to do to the bullpen because there are going to be some consequences to be paid when starting pitchers don't pitch the innings that you need to have them pitch to keep your guys in the bullpen. You want to talk about guys being fresh and being able to go, the more they're used the less that can happen.

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