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December 5, 2007
Q. How much of addressing the 2nd base is a priority at this point? I know you have the internal candidates, but it just seemed like Dan is making an effort to at least explore all areas. How to address 2nd. In your mind is it a priority, or are you going to wait and see how it plays out?
CLINT HURDLE: I think it's going to be like many cases we've come across in the past handled the way same way. Yes, we have a need. We believe we've also got some in-house candidates that can get the job done. We don't want to miss any external candidates that might be good fits.
So we're not going the to go out of our belief or our structure or -- but we have penciled to work within the framework financially of what we have to do that. The market is moving at a slow pace for a lot of different reasons.
Q. To bring in someone from the outside, do you need to make some people internally as opposed to bringing six or seven 2nd basemen to training?
CLINT HURDLE: I'm sorry?
Q. Make some moving internally before you necessarily bring someone in from outside?
CLINT HURDLE: We might not have to do it before, but you might have to do it -- if you're able to go outside and get the person you want to get that's a good fit, then you might have to make some moves afterwards. The numbers just get problematic. We've all gone over the names. Barmes, Quintanilla, Nix, Carroll, Baker and Stewart. You don't have the volume of games nor innings to get them all in play. You're going to have to probably pair the group however which way you see best fitting the team. Make sure you have a plan going into Spring Training where the right guys get the right innings.
Q. You used the phrase "a good fit" for your 2nd baseman. Who do you mean by "a good fit"?
CLINT HURDLE: Our kind of player. I mean a guy that's had some -- when we go outside, we look for some guys that have had some success. Little formula we follow, pitcher or position player. Might be coming off a year that's below average for him. Very confident in his ability to rebound. Play, has played good baseball, is unselfish. We do our due diligence as far as people that come across and worked with him in the past. And will he be a positive influence on the infrastructure of the club, also.
Q. Is that where Taguchi would fit and Loretta?
CLINT HURDLE: They're both names we've talked around. They have a lot of positive characteristics. There's only -- there's less than an handful of names we've talked about. We're exploring the possibility of is there anything with any legs to it.
Q. Nix obviously hasn't seen a day in the Major League. Based on what he did in AAA and the Taiwan tournament and reports you get, is he exciting the potential?
CLINT HURDLE: Very much so. It's the best we've heard him play and the best our people have seen him play: We're glowing. Davey Johnson had good things to say about things. That is the context of what we have to go -- that is what that is. It all goes back now you sit down when you're talking about maybe a couple people externally who have experience.
It's the bird in the hand versus the one over here, because now you're challenged if you stay internal. How does the dynamic you have your lineup play in who is a better fit to hit 7th? You have to have some protection for him. You want to put somebody down to 8th? All those things you talk about.
Q. Doesn't sound like an issue with pairing him with a shortstop because your shortstop is old beyond his years?
CLINT HURDLE: Not at all. We're all very optimistic and pleased with the performance and progress of Jason.
Q. From the sounds of things, the defensive to put him --
CLINT HURDLE: It could be something special.
Q. Is too low in your mind already go up to the second spot?
CLINT HURDLE: I'm leaning in that direction.
Q. Big picture question. The run you guys made at the end of the season historic, remarkable. Spin forward to 2008. What do you think that did for your club as you enter next season, that ability to win under pressure and do all those new things you were able to do? What is that going to do for you come this next year?
CLINT HURDLE: The most important part of it is I think they really have embraced the concept of -- they have a team identity. They know all the benefits of playing unselfish team baseball.
The confidence that was gleaned from playing high drama games in challenging situations with a limited experience, I've never been more proud of the club the way they handled themselves late September, post-season, the poise they played with. For me as much as anything, they had fun while doing it.
It wasn't guys that were so locked into playing a game that they just had game faces 24/7. There was fun going on in the dugout and on the field. A huge desire to win, obviously. They've got that in the bag now. That is in your pocket.
We put something out there that is very special. We worked very hard to get to that. We know what we're capable of.
Will you ever go on one ever those again? I don't know. But to have the challenges that we've had before, winning on the road let alone winning on the road in a playoff scenarios, winning on the road late in the season. That's just -- you can't beat that. You can't buy that. You can't recreate that. There's no scholarships given out for that. That's something that you have to find a way to get done.
Q. Do you feel going into it like there's going to be a lot of expectation almost as if people look at you as something of a favorite in this division or look around and say, "Hey, the division was close last year"?
CLINT HURDLE: As far as experts go, I always laugh every spring when the experts pick teams to win. I don't laugh at the experts. I just laugh. There's so many dynamics that take place during the course of a season, whether it be injuries, whether it be up seasons or down seasons.
I know this: It was very hard for people last year to say we had a good team. Took some people 150, 155 games to say we had a good team. We felt we had a good team going in. The most important facet, they kept pushing through the entire season. Their belief in themselves, not letting anything else sway that.
Our expectations, we didn't pull off winning the west. That was an expectation last year.
Q. That's one of the reasons you think they'll deal well, because there will be expectations that you don't see that --
CLINT HURDLE: I'm not worried about anybody's expectations but theirs. It doesn't concern me -- yours, Thomas's, Tracy's, anybody's. That's what you do. We can't control what other people are going the write or -- who cares. They put us last last year.
Q. I did.
CLINT HURDLE: I'm saying that that's not a focus point. They expect a lot of themselves. That's the biggest thing. They've gotten to the point they expect a lot out of themselves. That's got to take care of itself.
Q. Forty-two years I suddenly find out you don't care?
CLINT HURDLE: Would you guys actually pick division winners if you didn't have to? That's what I'm saying. We're all kind of slaves to that part of it. You guys do it. Some people read it. How impossibly difficult is it to do, but some people hang their hats on it.
Q. I picked Atlanta in '91 because I picked in alphabetical order. Clint, looking at your starting rotation -- Jason Hirsh, he got hurt. He didn't finish the season. Where do you see him now as he begins this second shot in the rotation?
CLINT HURDLE: We're confident of his health. I don't dispute that being an issue. That being said, we'll need to see him go out and run and pitch and do all the things he was doing last year before the injury. I thought he was making very positive strides. I think the experience he gained from last season, the challenge that went with it, very valuable for him.
Q. Is his about throwing the fastball more like you got into it a couple times about being you thought maybe he was a little too much in love with the breaking stuff? Do you want him to come to camp with the mindset of let everything play out the fastball?
CLINT HURDLE: I would be very disappointed if his mindset changes over the winter with the much improved performance of his pitching when he -- he was more aggressive, used his fastball much more. He gives us -- we don't feel any different about it than we did last winter.
Q. Do you see an overall message in the efforts to do the extension with the players?
CLINT HURDLE: I'm not big on sending messages, but I think there are times when certain things are done professionally and respectfully that add value to everything that you do. And I think players appreciate that and I think that would be a very good example of an organization showing the people that are in play that we value you first and we'll make every opportunity to make sure we get things done in a proper fashion and a timely fashion with the people that we hold high.
Q. Are you hopeful something can get done there? Obviously you went through this with J.J. last year. This seems a little different, certainly the offer out there --
CLINT HURDLE: I'm optimistic.
Q. You just talk about the leadership that Cook and Francis shows. It seems they've really grown as leaders.
CLINT HURDLE: They've made -- they've made strides through their actions, through their preparation, and neither one of them are big-talk customers. They prepare so well. They have a lot of focus as far as doing things properly, being efficient with time.
The competitive nature takes all over in the game, and everybody can see that dynamic in play. It just adds to it when they have success. I mean when -- you can have all those things. If you aren't successful, you become a hard trier. After a while, hard trying is what it is, too. They've kind of made that next, they're making that -- Jeff has made it obviously more to a winning degree than Aaron but Aaron is moving in that direction without a doubt.
Q. How do you see centerfield flushing out? You got Spilly doing some great things for you. Do you have Willy as the guy?
CLINT HURDLE: Pretty much, yeah. I can't see that changing. I mean, with Willy, we'll knock on wood he'll find a way to get a little stronger where we can -- maybe the wear and tear. You look at numbers of games played. I mean, we have a very valuable guy who can play for anybody, but I think in the real world you can be looking at 40 games. Somebody else picking up 30 to 40 games, somebody picking up in center.
It's great if we don't need that many blows, but just on what we've seen, you want to make sure you keep them fresh and strong. So it would start with Willy and see how it plays from there.
Q. Did teams start catching on to his ability to use a bunt as a base hit and does -- has he got to maybe make adjustments for that? Toward the end of the year and certain times in the playoffs, they were cheating big time down the third baseline. Does he need to get a few more offensive weapons?
CLINT HURDLE: I think what you saw was the effects of the rust showed up there more than anything else. Because it wasn't so much when he was playing every day. It was more so when he came back and his ability, he didn't make out.
So I think it was more that than anything else because he was gets pitches to bunt. They weren't going where they needed to go. I mean, there was a time during the season he was one of the most efficient bunters I've ever seen play.
Q. Do you find also you have to find another leadoff bat, 30, 40 games that --
CLINT HURDLE: Definitely. You know what? It's going to be very creative, whether it be Spilborghs, Sullivan, second baseman, whoever that might be.
Q. You've always too, looked for a veteran left-handed guy off the bench, maybe experiment last year. In Smith's case he showed he could do it, but counterproductive to have him as a pinch-hitter instead of playing, or do you look to him in that role to continue, or do you need a veteran?
CLINT HURDLE: We're going to consider a lot of things. We haven't made final decisions on anything. We're going to bring a bunch of men into camp. We are not actively hot. That's not the top of our priority left, find a left-hand bat off the bench.
Q. Talking to your Minor League people, it sounds like he's actually a better outfielder than Spilborghs.
CLINT HURDLE: We've worked him out at centerfield already. That's one of our game plans in Spring Training also to see where that takes us.
Q. Just the performance of those young guys and those bench roles, does that kind of change your thinking about it where you're less hot?
CLINT HURDLE: It definitely has given me an opportunity to rethink some things, the way all of them came up and performed and whether it be a bench role, limited role. There's something to be said for the dynamic of a bunch of guys that are coming up in the same system playing to one another, where there's just a better feeling about things.
He didn't seem to overtry, Seth didn't. It was a good fit. I said something late in the year. I just think when you have more talent, you have more options and you don't need to look to things the way things have been done in the past have been successful. You can be a little more creative and take a few more chances when you have better athletes and better personnel.
Q. You're looking still to try to find one more arm, whether bringing LaTroy back to kind of pair with him.
CLINT HURDLE: We're still trying to identify some guys that are out there to help in the bullpen and I know we're still talking to LaTroy. I know that's active.
Q. Is it that there always seems to be more look to go fill out the bullpen than other areas?
CLINT HURDLE: That's the hardest dynamic to put into play. These guys, you check -- very rarely do you find guys run-off three, four, top shelf years in the bullpens. There's a lot of spikes out there. It can come from overuse by managers, different places, they change scenery, whatever. Injuries.
Q. Did you see the contracts they're getting this year?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah. I see them.
Q. Riske gets released. He gets three years for 13 million with a chance to earn 19.
CLINT HURDLE: I think he had 70 appearances one year without a hold.
Q. Thought Linebrink was done.
CLINT HURDLE: The thing you can't fall in the trap, the industry presents opportunities for players. You don't have to be a slave to that. We've learned some very valuable lessons that have taught us there. It's such a reactive industry, that what we've tried to do is stay proactive on our side of it. not just be reactive to the industry or what the market dictates. We've lost some people over the years because this is how they fit for us in price.
Q. What about Percival and a new vintage automobile? I saw him throw the first day of camp when he was with Detroit. He didn't make the team. What little I knew about pitching, it was painful to watch. Seven guys, seven mounds. Do you get involved personally with LaTroy? Do you call him?
CLINT HURDLE: Haven't as of yet. You know, you made a comment the other day about Matsui. We know these guys better than anybody, and they know us better than anybody. One more phone call, one more road trip to have lunch. We've lived with them. We've cried with them, embraced them. What more do you want? LaTroy knows how I feel about him. If a call would become necessary, in a heartbeat, but there's also a side that I need to be respectful of and not be involved.
Q. What about Chacon's case? Your relationship with him actually was pretty good when he left, right?
CLINT HURDLE: As far as I know.
Q. He's said as much when I talked with him when he was with Pittsburgh. Would that be different than in past where you talk to a free agent and kind of pitch it? Or, you know, in other words, because you had him for so long and know him so well, is that a different situation for you guys?
CLINT HURDLE: I don't know. I think anytime we talk to former players, we have on a couple occasions, that's a dynamic you have to be very careful with. You want the make sure they're not coming back because they realize now maybe they're more comfortable there than they are other places. You want to make sure they know what kind of environment you have in place now, specific role that you're looking to put them in play and what their goals and their hopes are and why we're attracted to them. I ask them some questions, also.
I think it would be probably more similar than different just that we know each other better. It's a different set of circumstances that the conversation would go that way to him.
Q. Your situation is different. You don't want a guy just coming there now to reclaim his career because he likes living there.
CLINT HURDLE: Exactly. No. That's the hard part because sincere players tell you sincere things. Players that have agendas sometimes will tell you sincere things or things that you want to hear. It's knowing the guy and making a good decision. Trusting your instincts.
Q. Where would you characterize Franklin Morales now? Would he come into spring in the mix right away from the get-go to be part of the starting rotation? You're going to have some competition?
CLINT HURDLE: I don't think we've decided that yet. We'll wait and see what kind team we put together for Spring Training on the numbers. We've even talked about, you know, depending on the starting rotation, would he be a fit in the bullpen to start the season? If things spun in a very positive fashion, would he fit better in the starting rotation?
We know Franklin and like him. He's an important part, a valuable part, but we actually envision him maybe fitting in a couple different ways.
Q. That would almost be the way things used to be done, the young guy cut his teeth in middle relief, long relief. You look at your original, maybe revisit your original batting order last year with Atkins hitting 3rd. It worked for you obviously as the season progressed last year, but would that be something you would experiment with in Spring Training, maybe move things around?
CLINT HURDLE: I don't know. I haven't thought about a lineup for next year. That usually doesn't start until about January. I got some things I plan on trying in Spring Training, not along those lines but different lines with lineups. I'm still on vacation.
Q. But as long as you have those three in the middle of your lineup, and then Hawpe below them?
CLINT HURDLE: It would be very difficult to mess that up. However you hit him, I would think they're awfully good hitters.
Q. Todd isn't bucking for a change.
CLINT HURDLE: I think they're all pretty comfortable where they are right now.
Q. Going through the playoffs, the end of the season, did you learn anything new about Todd Helton? Was he pretty -- a leader you expected or things that you got to see him in a different light than seeing him in games that mattered deep in the season?
CLINT HURDLE: I think the last point you made was probably the most apparent to me, just the motion that you saw, the visual impact. He always played with a great passion and a great desire and great game face, very stoic.
You win or you lose. That's it. It was still that way, but the emotion that he was carrying through the games, the intensity with his teammates, for his teammates. For me it was just a snapshot when he was a kid playing in the backyard. Little more fun involved.
Q. With your catchers, would you like to see kind of a more even alternation of guys where you can have -- play pretty close to even?
CLINT HURDLE: That's not going to be the plan going in. Not going to split it 50/50 going in. I'm going to give Torre every opportunity to be the one guy coming out of the box. We'll ask Chris to fit in as it moves accordingly, and I think eventually the plan is for Chris to garner more playing time. But when that happens, I don't know. I'm very pleased with the job Torre has done. I think he's earned that opportunity. It would be hard to cut a guy back after the most games he's played, maybe the best season he's had defensively, to bring him in the next spring, just "By the way, I'm going to cut your games down."
Q. Chris should be ready to be a backup though in spring with the injury?
CLINT HURDLE: We think so. The injury we don't think is going -- Jay spoke to the injury the other day. Feels confident he'll be recovered.
Q. That's according to Jay?
CLINT HURDLE: I'm quoting Jay.
Q. He made enough strides offensively once he came back.
CLINT HURDLE: I don't know that. I saw a better setup, better swings. I saw more confidence. Saw the things we wanted to see for the purpose we sent him down. The way he returned, we thought that plan worked out very well.
Q. Is Bellorin coming back?
CLINT HURDLE: Yes.
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