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Clint Hurdle Q&A Part 1

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle spoke with the media at baseball's winter meetings. Here is part one of the Q&A transcript.

Q. Who he is your opening day starter?
CLINT HURDLE: Ain't no tellin'. We've been working on that one.

Q. Any guys who are a sure thing in the rotation behind Cole and Taillon or is there going to be Spring Training competition?
CLINT HURDLE: There is going to be Spring Training competition, to say that Cole and Chad had a -- we think a lot about Chad and what he experienced in that season and he would be a guy well thought of based on what he accomplished going into Spring Training.

We have internal conversations that we need to have moving through the winter and into Spring Training so they know what their opportunity is when they walk in the door so there are no distractions, there are no false expectations.

So we've got Brault, Williams, Hutchison, Kuhl will follow in that group. But Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are the two that are locked in.

Q. You guys didn't get a lot of innings from your starting pitchers. What was the overall effect not just on the rotation but the whole pitching depth, everything?
CLINT HURDLE: There is collateral damage that goes everywhere. Number of pitches thrown, it actually leaks into the pace of game, the time of game. We spent more time on the field this year than any other time since maybe before '13.

We want to improve our ability to throw strikes, quality strikes, make pitches, pitch deeper and I mean that in a positive way, that it's not -- we have an internal conversation. You give us seven innings and we will figure it out after that. It's not the six innings and three earned runs, that's not something we cradle, that quality start definition. It makes everything more feasible moving forward, less reps out of the bullpen, not as many leverage situations for the guys out of the bullpen if we can avoid that.

But your overall defense, your ability to play defense, your ability to have prepitch focus each and every pitch of the game. This was the year that was more complicated for us than in the past. Our guys are well aware of that. Cervelli is aware of that, Stewart is well aware of it moving forward. That's an area that's going to be priority one on improving.

Q. Can you find those innings internally or are you going to have to reach out to another organization?
CLINT HURDLE: I think those are things that Neil is exploring right now. We would like to add a so-called experienced starter to the rotation, a guy that's shown, got a track record, resume of pitching innings, quality innings. 170 innings over five ERA, that's not what we're looking for. Somebody that's done it and if somebody else can show up to help us out, we'll explore that, as well.

If there is not a move that we think betters the organization, we've got guys that we're going to look towards internally to give them the ball and the opportunity to improve. We're going to look at it from both those angles.

Q. What role do you envision for Juan Nicasio this year?
CLINT HURDLE: Juan is going to start working out of the bullpen for us. And as the winter continues to play out we'll see the definition of that role maybe become more acute. He showed the ability to do for us what some of those guys were doing in the postseason, to come in and stop a big leverage situation in the sixth inning, pitch the seventh, pitch the eighth, pitch multiple innings, some setup innings late in the game. The numbers out of the bullpen catch your eye, get your attention, the strike-outs per innings pitched, the ERA, all those numbers that you want to look at. Batting average against. So he proved to be a valuable reliever for us that's got flexibility.

Q. Is that something that's easy for you to see, the difference in his confidence in being a starter versus when he went to the bullpen and had immediate success?
CLINT HURDLE: I think he deserves a lot of credit for the ability to close the book on one and open the book on another. There was no hangover from would have, should have, could have, or I didn't maximize my opportunity. He made it very clear coming into camp that he wanted to start and put a lot of effort and focus in it.

I think one of the things that challenged him was he was game ready from Spring Training and just that internal clock that mindset. It might have worn on him a little bit, he wasn't getting the results that he wanted going through the starts he had. He's been a resilient guy over his career and overcome so much physical and had some physical challenges that he dealt with. And when he went to the bullpen it was a fresh start, he hit the reboot part of the computer, got the ball, stayed ready and did a fantastic job for us.

Q. Have you reached out to Andrew at all this off-season and how are you handling the rumors and the idea that he may or may not be with you next season?
CLINT HURDLE: I have just about called all the players. I started before Thanksgiving. I still got a few more to get done.

Talked to him about his winter, about our program moving forward, shared with him some of the things that happened at the end of this season. The staff transformation because the players weren't a part of that, that's something we talked about, talked about ideas going into Spring Training.

Andrew is a professional guy that I think keeps things in a pretty good place. I think it's another part of his career that he's getting to work through, walk through, and he's got a great support system. That's one of the things that I shared with him, is there anything I can do to help lessen the distraction, to be there, talk, whatever. He's in a good place. I think there will be a day where he will be glad that there's closure and then there is Spring Training and there is a season to play and all those things.

Q. When you got here did you expect that he would still be on this team when you leave?
CLINT HURDLE: I don't have any expectations along those lines. Again, this is not something that we're the aggressors of, people are contacting Neil and talking to Neil about what would it take to secure the privilege of having Andrew on their team.

My job is to be the manager of the club and just to go out and to share my thoughts on our strengths and what we need to improve on. I don't have one expectation. Crazy things happen in the winter and I know we're a really good team when Andrew plays for us and has played for us, he's been a big part of everything we've done. I love the guy and I know at the end of the day he's going to be a real good ballplayer next year and I hope it will be with us.

Q. In the postseason the Indians threw a ton of curveballs against Toronto and even more against the Cubs. Your staff has a lot of curveball pitchers. Could you see going into a series with that approach?
CLINT HURDLE: I think when you have guys that can throw curveballs, the opportunity to throw more is definitely there. We've had situations in the past six years where we have had teams challenge our hitters with more curveballs. And I see from other organizations it's based on the construction of the starting rotation and the bullpen, pitchers that you have.

More information seems to be garnered every year on how to attack, how to counter punch and how to get people out. So it's something that we are aware of and something we've definitely had conversation about.

Q. Sort of the Rich Hill model of 50% curveballs or Drew Pomeranz, maybe a 35, 40%, you could see more of that going forward?
CLINT HURDLE: It's trended up in the past season. I think the game runs in cycles, though. I mean splint finger fastballs was the romance pitch for a long time. That was the pitch where everybody tried to develop and throw. I think you're seeing the game cycle back around to the curveball because there was many years the curveball disappeared. It was a slider, a split, and now you're seeing good old-fashioned high school curveballs being thrown again. And I think that's the ingenious part of being a pitching coach. And some of these older pitching coaches, they had these good breaking balls and they said hey, why don't you give this a shot and they work with grips all the time. Then somebody has success with it and the greatest form of flattery is imitation. So I expect to see more.

Q. You're a hitting guy. Is a good curveball an extremely difficult pitch to hit or if you see enough, do you start hitting it?
CLINT HURDLE: It all depends on the fastball velocity that enhances the whole thing. Because when you can separate the velocities, when you can get a breaking ball and curveball velocity 15 to 20 miles apart that's when it's really challenging. If you're throwing 88 miles an hour and your curveball is 77 miles an hour, there is not enough separation. So it's easier to time, to anticipate and to put the barrel on it. So I still think it's a lot about separation. You've got to have fastball command, fastball location to set up the other pitch.

Q. When you spoke to Andrew McCutchen this off-season, did you talk to him about moving to a corner?
CLINT HURDLE: We spoke to him before the season ended about how we could best facilitate his career moving forward is it time to think about moving to a corner, saving the wear and tear running to center field. So we've had that conversation and we want him to think about it. We're going to think about it and we said we would reconnect over the winter and collect our thoughts and come up with a plan of attack.

Q. Did he seem amenable to it?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, actually shared his thoughts on the timing of it, when it would be probably good for the players to know and the people know if that's something we decided to do to go about it.

Q. He talked about the leadership that comes with being a center fielder. And he inferred that you can't have that same role if you're a corner guy. Is that true? Does being the face of the franchise transcend that?
CLINT HURDLE: I think it transcends that in his case. However, that's Andrew's lens. There's times you have to honor what other people think.

The funny part of what we do in our industry is you ask a guy a question and he will give you an answer and then people tell him why he's wrong. So I don't think Andrew is concerned about what other people think when he shares his thoughts. I love getting his thoughts.

I know when Torii Hunter moved from center fold to right field, it didn't take away from any leadership that he carried, and I think that's a grown man that's done a lot of significant things in a game that a lot of people in that clubhouse haven't done. And it carries a lot of weight and respect in and of itself.

Q. Would it be right field?
CLINT HURDLE: Hypothetically we got one of two choices and I think that's a conversation again that if we're going to go into depth with it, Andrew would be the first guy I want to have that conversation with.

Q. Has there been discussion about trying to regain the defensive edge that your team had when it was going to the postseason, whether you look at efficiency or advanced metrics? There was a fall back in '16. Does cleaning up pitching fix that for you?
CLINT HURDLE: Cleaning up pitching is going to do a lot of that. I think defensive consistency can improve, the abilities of you to make changes within the game, because you have your posting, your defensive shifts all in line based on hitters. Sometimes the game can change things. Catchers can read things and we're going to lean on Cervelli's expertise back there going in.

We've got some different thoughts on the models that we use moving forward based on volume of at-bats, number of at-bats, what makes more sense. We're going to lean heavily on, if you have 25 at-bats from a guy do we really need to post up a certain way. Pitchers hitting, that was another area of concern.

So we've got some variations that we've talked about. There are some things that we talked about and are going to put into place. One of them was the man in charge of our infield and outfield defense and two coaching changes that we made, we believe Joey Cora and Kimera Bartee will give us the edge that we had.

Players play the game and it doesn't fall on the coaches' shoulders solely when the performance level doesn't end up where you think it should be. And whether you like it or not, in this game there are times when a different voice can have a different meaning, a different lens can add to a different dynamic, whether it be physical dynamic, whether it be a mental dynamic, whether it be a defensive dynamic. And I believe that the two men coming in are going to help us be the best defensive club we can be next year and moving forward.

Q. Felipe Rivero obviously showed he had a great arm when he came in and he came in right in the middle of everything. With him having a chance to go to Spring Training and having time to work with Ray and Yuki and work out control problems how big of a difference will that make for him?
CLINT HURDLE: We're looking forward to it and it's not like there were some things that we're like, oh my gosh, I can't wait for the season to get over so we can work with this guy. His skill set is very unique and it's high end velocity, it's significant spin.

There was a game when he had one of those classic confrontations with Joey Votto that seems like every pitcher on our staff has at some point in time of the year. I think he got him with a 3-2 change-up and he's thrown three of those in his career. So there is some make-up he's got mentally, there is an ability to do things and to risk during a game which is not all about caution. But I do think there are some things that Yuki and Ray have identified that we can help him with to help him fine point his command a little bit. Because we want him to be able to eat off of the mound. It's not all about the command that Nova showed for us late in the season, where there is 20 pitches and 17 strikes and three balls. But the walk and strike-out ratio is something he wants to improve on. And I know it will help him especially being a late inning guy. The walks can really complicate things.

Q. With your success over the last few years, you've had some young players that were able to make the jump from being a good prospect to contributor. For guys like Cole or Marte, was there any one thing that stood out why they were successfully able to make the transition from being a good prospect to being an important part of the team?
CLINT HURDLE: I believe the players, number one, deserve the most credit. Secondly, we have a player development system that I could not be more honored to be a small part of, Kyle Stark and Larry Broadway, our managers, coaches, support staff, those guys do a fantastic job on growing these men up on and off the field. All three of the coaches that we're bringing up, Tom Prince, Joey Cora, Bartee have been a part of that. We had 12 men make their Major League debut last year, which is always exciting. Sometimes it's challenging because that's not the way you draw it up, but I think ten of them were guys that have been through the system, so people that touched them on the way and we've got more coming. I do believe that our group does such a great job of getting these men ready, being creative with their preparation as well because most of the time you don't have starting pitchers in the Minor Leagues pitch a seventh or eighth or ninth inning. And we will go ahead and create situations for them, whether it be instructionally, whether it be in the season, starting them on back ends of games where they come in the third inning pitch the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, just to change it up where there is not so much newness to the Major League opportunity. Our guys do a great job of that.

Q. Is there anything you as managers do to help the guys make the transition to the big leagues?
CLINT HURDLE: I will look for things to share, things that were complications for me, they could have been distractions for me, they could have been things, the way I went about the game. I ensure that, number one, don't try and please everybody. Fear nothing and respect everything. If they're coming off the bench, the greatest advice I ever got as a bench player pinch-hitting, Rusty sat me down and he said, What are you trying to do?

I said, Well, the last three times I've been up I had a chance to win the game.

He goes, Do you realize if you were really good, you would be starting the game?

And I went, No, I didn't think of it that way.

And he said, You have a chance to clean up everything for everybody. You're in a no-lose situation. We've already made a mess. All you can do is good. We've already done it three or four times, most of the other guys.

So I think it helps to set up their mindset and letting them know expectations also. Early in I will have a sit down with these guys and tell them my expectations and very rarely does it have anything to do with numbers. And I think that lightens the load a little bit.

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