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December 9, 2008

Clint Hurdle


Q. We asked Dan about this yesterday, about how the number of outfielders you have and the Atkins/Stewart situation. How do you view this in terms of spring and getting Carlos Gonzalez and perhaps Ian bouncing around. How do you make those pieces fit in spring? Maybe with more games it could get a little easier.
CLINT HURDLE: It'll be a little easier with the addition of some games. But at the end of the day to, we jsut have to have a game plan drawn up before we go in about actually a rotation system. We do want to see what we have in Gonzalez.
One of the benefits we have is Spilborghs' presence in Mexico, he's going to get some added playing time and some acclimation to centerfield there. So he will also spend time in center with us. We're also going to revisit the corners, a brief visit. Seth Smith is going to bounce up. There's enough innings, and there will be opportunities for Stewart if the land -- I should say the level of the land dictates we visit the outfield situation with him.
We also want to contact him before the new year and give him some direction as to how we plan to go also so he can get ready. I've had a conversation with him, and I'll let him now how and why we're going to do it.
Q. With two third basemen, Stewart being a young guy and the pressures that come with that, is that the reason you'd be more comfortable moving him than say Atkins to find a position?
CLINT HURDLE: I think it's something that we have had a conversation about it has some merit to it. I do think one of things we also have to keep in mind is the volume of games in which Todd will be able to have active participation.
That'll be a reduced number, and he'll be good with that. Less quantity can add to quality. One of the conversations we're having internally, are we best suited just to take Garrett across the diamond and have Stew get back to a comfortable place at third.
Also got the option for him as another second base position. I don't want to muddle things for him mentally, but he's so athletic, I don't think it's going to be as much of an issue, other than him just being able to separate the ball.
Go play defense to the best of your ability on that side, and then offensively let's find the comfort zone you were in the second visit we had. Stay aggressive in the zone and, expand the field and turn it around a little bit to the left side of the field because the slow stuff will pick up his barrel.
I just know he's hungry and ready. I'm hoping he's out of the survival stage and into the contributing stage. He made some contributions last year. But the three stages players go by, Jim Tracy talks about it. We've talked about surviving, contributing, and then winning. We're looking -- all your players are at those different stages sometimes, and I think Stew is ready to have more of a contribution.
Q. You have not asked him to go to outfield yet?
CLINT HURDLE: I mean, we haven't extended the invitation. We haven't put it down in down in writing. We've talk about it.
Q. When you got to see him up close, beforehand had you heard about his athletic ability? Did you know that he was that type of athlete?
CLINT HURDLE: I didn't know. But through the time I've been able to spend with him putting an eye on him, I mean, the biggest statement I could have made about it is when I called him up from AAA -- and I played him in the Major Leagues at second base and he had never played a game at second base in his life.
That's a pretty big step. And, you know, there was some -- maybe some early situations that, you know, lack of experience he looked a little awkward on. After that, about the first two-week period, he handled himself very well there.
I've had to challenge him to go take some balls in the outfield. He did that a number of times. Last winter he started, through spring training, during the season he would usually take a group and shag.
So, no, it's not the same thing, but this kid is athletic.
Q. I'm sure that you guys are confident that one way or another you're going to be able to replace or make up for Matty's bat being gone. In what ways do you see that happening, where you take who was essentially your most dangerous guy and he's no longer there. How do you make up for that?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, you revisit all the people that are involved in the offensive part of the lineup. With the exception of a couple guys, everybody was below average last year. So you try and get them back to the levels that they've been in the past. You look for more from the top of lineup, because that was a place that was kind of soft for us last year.
Then you look at the experience that Iannetta gained, experience Barmes has. Those two guys probably made strides forward. Hawpe continuing evolution as a hitter and a more consistent hitter.
Adkins' bat. I think he's going to have an edge. You know, he did not have a good year, and he'll be the first one to tell you. So there's going to be a determination, I think, there that's going to make some -- make a difference.
Tulo, I mean, he was -- he wobbled the entire period of games until he was injured early offensively. Then he got in a very good place the last six weeks of the season and showed you things that had become somewhat accustomed to seeing in a short period of time.
Spillborghs' more at-bats. Seth Smith getting in play on the offensive side of the ball. I mean, we weren't as proficient as anybody thought we would be last year offensively, and that's with Matt in the lineup.
It'll be a challenge, but I think everybody, just everybody pitches in and carries their own lunch pail and we'll get it done. I do think our pitching staff is in the better position. I know it is going into spring training even than where we were last year, I think.
Starting rotation, the five guys you get down on paper right now, and the depth guys we have backing them up. The Twins last winter at this time last winter had Santana and Torii Hunter, and they were out of the water.
We got a chance for Fuentes to go and for Halliday to go, and I think we're going to be all right. I think we'll be better than all right.
Q. Have you had any conversations with Helton since the surgery? Do you know where he stands at this point?
CLINT HURDLE: I had a conversation in the clubhouse, and we've exchanged texts a little bit. He's following the instructions given to him by his doctor to a T. He is very focused ongoing through all the rehab procedures he needs to before he picks up a bat. There's a date and deadline that I think has been put in pencil when that could start if everything continues the way it is. I think there's been progress being made the entire time since the surgery until now.
Q. You mentioned right at the top that it makes sense, you know, quality and quantity. You think he'll be good with that at this stage of his career?
CLINT HURDLE: I do. And if not, you know, he'll wrestle with me, and we're good at that. A lot of that's going to be nonnegotiable just because of best interests of the team and for him. I really think he's in a good place, and the best place he's ever been with the understanding that of what he can bring. He can still bring an awful lot. He can make a significant difference and add value to our club in a lot different ways when he's healthy.
Q. The timetable that you have him on, would it also give you in the early part of spring training a chance to look at Atkins a little bit more and Koshanski?
CLINT HURDLE: We're going to find time for both of those guys, because Atkins was basically thrown a crash course. Regardless of the fact it was a position he revisited.
I mean, when you do that kind of thing in the middle of a season, it does speak it Garrett's focus for doing what's best for the team.
He went over there with no questions asked and did the best job he could. I think it would be in fairness to him a little bit to prep him through spring training, and keep Joe involved in case of whatever might happen with Todd and his development. He's game-ready also.
Q. Your second base situation with Barmes coming off a pretty good year there, and you also have other guys that can move over there. Do you look at it as a competition, or Barmes is your guy and you kind of try to work the other guys in?
CLINT HURDLE: I think going in that Clint Barmes has earned first shot at this thing. Jeff Baker had a good season and was very productive. He deserves a lot of credit for the shape he got into and the way he took to second base, getting the instruction.
We saw a great value from him at third base late in the season also. The ability to go in the outfield is never going to hurt him. I think he needs to continue to just work hard, and we've got to find ways jsut to keep his bat involved.
That's a challenge we're always going to have until something is open for him on an everyday period. He's going to get reps. Barmes did a fine, fine job and deserves a lot of credit for a bounce-back season from where he was at the beginning of the '07 season and where he started '08 and the way he was able to finish.
Q. When the Rays were in the World Series, Joe Maddon talked a lot about productive outs. Couldn't wait until spring training to get into more of that. You talked a lot about that at the end of the year. Now that there's some distance from that, do you still envision spring training being a little different in going back to basics? How will you implement that thing you talked about with us going back to basics?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, we're going to do some things different. Not going to try to recreate anything, just get some things involved that we've had some success with in our Minor League side of it when I was over there.
I do think some of the personnel, just the fact that they're going to bring different edges and they've got the taste of -- there's some definite humility that we had to take upon ourself and some disappointment. That's going to be motivating.
But case specifically, there's an execution game we played through the Minor Leagues that we have our pitchers play that we're going to revisit on the offensive side of the ball at the Major League level.
Q. Is that in drills?
CLINT HURDLE: It's kind of a drill. It's nine innings of baseball with fundamentals tied to each inning. We're going to get everybody involved. We're going to have I think a little more case-specific stations set up, and I do think we'll do a little more simulated preparation work.
It's an area of concern, but you play offensive and defensive baseball, but can your defense work if you put your offense guys on base? You make them run. You work on base running, sliding. We've done it a few times and we're going to do more of it. We're going to run the bases more in preparation for our physical, get-ready time.
Offensively, we're going to do some things in a simulated sequence just to heighten the awareness.
Q. Don Baylor mentioned something similar to that, the idea that from his perspective, what he wants to see is more, I don't know if situational hitting is what he meant, but more awareness, as you just said, the idea of being smarter hitters. Is that something that, looking back on last year, you guys lacked sometimes, being smart hitters?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, I don't think we relied upon the skills we've got. We got in a mode of emergency too often, and it basically came down -- it was an M.O. that came into play with a consistent theme throughout the season. We failed to execute, we'd fall a little bit behind, and then we would try to catch up in a hurry.
We dug a hole for ourselves more often than not, and it was most of it on the offensive side of the baseball. These guys, through the exit interviews, as painful as it was for some of them, I mean, you get to a point where you've just got to take a real good look and watch the videotape.
We talked about effort versus misguided effort. We talked about intent and we talked about, you know, quality at-bats. That's good. But revisiting the fact that at a certain point in the fame there's team at-bats. It's not your at-bat.
Bottom line, shouldn't every bat be a team at-bat? We got to really get our focus better ton being a lineup that really sets each other up and a couple good swings of the bat maybe something could happen. We've done it. It's not something that we're not capable of doing or haven't done before. We got away from that collectively as a group.
Q. Do you feel that maybe as a Major League staff you guys kind of almost fell out of that teaching mode? I've seen your Minor Leaguers work on that execution game. When you get to the Major Leagues, are there times you just kind of assume they know and have done this, and maybe that's a mistake?
CLINT HURDLE: You know, I think that that happens at the Major League level, and it could have been something that happened to us from time to time. I take responsibility for that.
But you do also try and give guys opportunities to -- you know, they've learn and shown you some production, so possibly they could be in a position where the constant instruction or team teaching, you know, you might try and break away a little bit.
But I think I found out this, that accountability isn't as important for those who experiencing failure, it's probably more important for those that experience success. It's a steadfastness that needs to be there.
I'm not saying anybody took anything to for granted, but I do know how hard we worked collectively as an organization on the baseball side of it on the field. And after six years of pushing and prodding and battling and scratching, I think he we all just went, Whew.
But any time you relax, like in a tug of war, you lose your grip and you lose ground.
Q. Dan said the other day to me that everybody on this club, in this organization learned a lot of lessons last year, including himself. What did you learn last year is as manager that you are going to take to the '09? Anything you can share with us?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah. That my focus needs to be acute. My focus needs to stay sharp and needs to be on detail. A check and balance system, you know, it's got to be there. It's not that you loosen the ropes on anything, but sometimes you just can't assume anything and take anything for granted.
I learned that in a very hard fashion last year. It's something that you talk about in elementary school. I remember getting to junior high and I had a teacher write the word "assume" up there and explain it to us very precisely, how it can be turned. It's still appropriate today at the age of 51. I think I was 13 the first time I heard it. 38 years later I wore it, so that's one.
I need to stay on the demanding side. I need to err on the demanding side.

Q. What do you mean err on the demanding side?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, I need to be the guy that's continuing to keep the pace, push the pace, maintain rhythm, maintain tempo, regardless of who it involves or what it involves. You always learn. Six years into it, seven years into it, and that was a challenging part for me at the end when I'm evaluating a team or a staff, the changes that were made. There's only three ways you learn.
I mean, you read, you watch, and you listen. All three of those need to be on all the time. The commitment level can never be compromised, and truly you've got to be the guy, because sometimes people don't know what's best for themselves.
You know, I don't, and I'm still trying to learn and stretch myself and get better in a lot of different ways. I had somebody make a comment to me that if you don't know it by now, you never will. You know, that's his opinion, but that, to me, is an opinion that has no merit.
I mean, if you're not learning, is there anybody here that bats a thousand at anything they do? But there's people that think that they do. I'm not one of them. I'm more than willing to take construction, I'm more than willing to listen, and I've got to believe that we all have got room for growth. We need to be smart enough and experienced enough when you need to add or subtract.

Q. You don't think you need to reinvent yourself?
CLINT HURDLE: No, not at all. That's just part of continuing to grow, to be the best person you can be, the best manager you can be.

Q. Sometimes you've just got to not play the bad guy, but be a little more stern with guys. Maybe you're a little more quick to take from them and say, This is how it's going to be. If you don't like it, tough.
CLINT HURDLE: Well, the one thing that you do have control over is the lineup part, and it's not a threat and it's not leverage and it's not personal. It's about personnel. That was talked about with each and every man as we walked out the door at the end of the season.
It will be revisited when they come in the door. There will be some standards in place, some staples to the game that we're going to follow. That's it. There will be a time when that first guy will be the guy, and we'll go from there.
But if you're going to talk it up, then you've got to back it up. It goes back to that actions versus words thing. You can talk and sound intelligent and all this, but sometimes you don't need to say a word. It's about what you do that has the most significant meaning, and how you do it.

Q. What can you do in preparation for the season to get Tulo started better? He struggled for quite a bit last year, but his first year he also struggled out of the gate.
CLINT HURDLE: That's a good question, but can you have a better spring? You can't have a better spring than he did last season and just hit rock bottom that quick and basically coin flip. He squared everything, he made homers, he made plays. So in his case, I just think it's a consistent routine to get ready for his pre-game work, a consistent approach in his at-bats.
We're not looking at numbers for results, we're going to look at the quality of his work, the quality of his at-bats, and go from there and just keep his focus on offensively hitting the ball hard when it's pitched, and defensively be the man in the middle, taking charge, making plays.

Q. How much do you think Jeff's health, or improved health, will catapult him into a rebound season, that in hindsight -- like you said, he never lets on what's going on, but clearly his demand was screwed up. Do you think a healthy Jeff is almost like a free agent pick up, or a trade for your rotation?
CLINT HURDLE: I don't know. It could be, because obviously you look at his numbers in '07 and his numbers in '08 and you're going to think the No. 1 guy going into the season is going to win more games. That was a pretty big hiccup to start with, trying to evaluate things going forward.
I don't think there's any doubt that his health had something to do with his demand issues, and I think he wore it for a long time without anybody knowing.

Q. Do you think Jeff's confidence was shaken last year?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, I think it was tested, definitely. "Shaken" is a word that you could use, also. Well, that's the challenge that comes with scoring, and that becomes the special part of it, how much of your confidence is dictated by your results. You've got to find a way to grow beyond results and get comfortable in your own skin with the results, no matter what they are.
You've got a skillset that's unique, that's special. You have hard work, preparation and determination, you'll find a way to get positive things done.

Q. When you give that example, is Aaron Cook kind of the living example of that, the things he's gone through over the years and maybe he's able to shake off bad things, he's able to stay focused and get through the way he did last year?
CLINT HURDLE: I think that's helped him in his development. There were some great lessons learned for him last season. Because, you know what? At the end of the day he did so many good things, rebounded so well, made the All-Star club, went through that very, very barren spot after the All-Star break and was at least able to get things back on track before we shut him down.
But then that nugget is out for him to finish the drill, to finish the season. It's another step that can be put in play, and I know it's a challenge that he's ready and willing to take on, because that was for him -- you know, he had to separate himself from his team. He let down his team, but he didn't finish what he started. Everybody wants to finish what they start.

Q. How much can Corpus benefit from being humbled coming into this year, because Dan made it clearest: He's not handing him the closer's role. Do you think that is a good situation for Manny to be in? Obviously he's in Denver and working out. Can he benefit from that?
CLINT HURDLE: I think so. It's unfortunate, but we're all built to show most through adversity, every one of us. We're going to find out really who we are and what we're made of. Manny has already responded to a lot of different challenges through his Minor League experience, his first Major League call-up, through the '07 season.
And now the challenges and the different experiences that he picked up in '08, I just think it's preparing him for what's ahead of him.

Q. Can he be that guy again?
CLINT HURDLE: To have those exact numbers, I don't know that.

Q. But be a closer?
CLINT HURDLE: I really think so. I really think so. I mean, the thing is, what's funny for me, societally speaking or baseball in the industry, a closer is a closer until you doesn't do good a couple games and then you throw him out like a wet wipe. Then you open up another box of closers.
How do you expect a guy to be a go-to guy if you can't let him stumble and trip a little bit. But then there comes a point when it's about the team. I think we've handled that throughout the challenges we've had here.
I think Manny understands that completely. I know he has a desire to be the guy, but he also knows that he's going to be asked to do what's best for the ballclub.

Q. But is it fair to say he has to win that job in spring training?
CLINT HURDLE: He knows that. He didn't finish real strong. He had a good roll going into the last two weeks of the season, and then things got away from him a little bit.

Q. What about Vis? Can you get a contribution from Vizcaino?
CLINT HURDLE: We're confident this season will be better than last (laughter.) No, the guy's numbers, the tangible evidence you have of how he's pitched throughout his career, he's one of the few guys that has that many successful campaigns successfully, and he threw a shoe.
The one positive side of the shoe he did throw was his numbers against right-handed pitching. His walks to strikeouts ratio. So there were some positives. The left-handed thing was a bad number. The home runs were bad numbers.
I don't think he got off to a good start. I'm not sure he was in the best shape he could have been in coming in, and then I don't think physically his arm was in the best shape it should have been in. So he played catch-up until he got in shape.
That's when he started pitching his best baseball. It was probably somewhat late June, early July in the All-Star break.

Q. Do you feel like you built some bullpen depth over the course of the year? He had a bad year. We talked about Corpas, but you saw a number of guys stepping forward. You brought in Jason Grilli and he pitched very well. Do you feel there's a development of a bullpen, some depth there?
CLINT HURDLE: I do. One of the things we've kept in play over the years is guys never pitched more than three days. It's three days and it's a no-go day. When a guy is down, you have opportunities for other guys to step into different roles, so stretch them and see what they can or cannot do.
As much help as it can be for you to make your evaluation, it also helps them in their honest self-evaluation. Everybody is going to tell you they want the ball, and it's no different. Some guys will tell you the 7th is no different than the 9th. That hasn't been my experience with some guys.
There's a seasoning that comes with it, and there's obviously a confidence level that can be increased and played upon with the success that they have.
But the versatility of our bullpen is a necessity for us. Really showed up at a real good time for us and pitched very effectively, showed they'll be able to pitch multiple innings. Ryan Speier came back and pitched effectively, you know.
Truth be told, there was a number of times he was on that shuttle because he had that option. He wasn't the worst pitcher on the staff. You look at some of the other guys we're going to visit, and some of the names we're still trying to explore and see if they'll fit. I feel very confident in our bullpen.
We're going to miss Brian, but we're going to have a bullpen. We're going to have guys in those positions that are going to be effective and do the job for us.

Q. Can you characterize what your expectations are in terms of getting something done here in Vegas?
CLINT HURDLE: I think we're just like everybody else. We have a plan in place. We're in the best place we've ever been coming to the winter meetings as far as holes to fill. We moved Fuentes and Halliday and we have people internally that we can go to. We added Street, we added Smith, we added a starter, a closer, and a very highly touted young outfielder in Carlos Gonzales.
We've got some people internally that add value to our lineup. Seth Smith, Ryan Spillborghs. We still have Willy Taveras with the ball. Where that takes us, we'll see.
We've got outfielders in place, Hawpe, infielders, Stewart, Barmes, Atkins, Tulowitzki, Baker, Helton.
But we are trying to see if there's some different fits that are going to improve our ballclub. It's soft paddling right now for everybody. Maybe with some things start to happen, a little more activity, and things will start to fall differently. But we're not forcing anything.

Q. Would a return to health obviously help you next year?
CLINT HURDLE: As much as anything. As much as anything. But that's not an excuse, and never will be. You play the game, and one of the true tests of your organization and your Major League clubs is that you're able to incorporate. When you can put skills together with depth and experience, that's when you become special. Obviously the injuries will challenge your depth.
We played some of our best baseball last season when we had some of our bigger names on the bench. All that came down to is we were playing the game right. We were executing fundamentals, and we were doing the basic things. But we got in our way.
As much as the opposition provided challenges for us, we got in our own way last season, also.

Q. What were your impressions of Dexter Fowler when you had him last September?
CLINT HURDLE: It's fun to watch young players develop, and I watched Dexter's first game with us in the instructional league a number of years ago. I watched him start his switch hitting in the instructional league program. So to watch the kids grow up, get to the Major League level, getting to play, he's got a lot of things you like in a young player. He's got a great frame. There's strength coming. He's a plus runner. So he's so graceful in the outfield. I mean, he'll go get a ball like nobody's business.
Offensively he's a little stronger right than left. But one of the cool things about Dexter, left-handed he hits with a split grip. I mean, it's Ty Cobb how many years later?
But it's an adjustment he made because he feels more comfortable with it. It speaks to the kid's awareness of doing things. He's a player that we're very fortunate to have, and I don't think that we need to goad him into doing anything else.
I think Dexter is on a mission to get up here. The sooner the better for him.

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